At least 18 locals, including unarmed civilians, killed in Magway Region 

At least 18 people, including unarmed civilians, were killed by junta troops in Magway Region on Thursday, in the deadliest clash since the country’s opposition government declared a “resistance war” on the coup regime earlier this month.

Fighting between regime forces and a local resistance group broke out on Thursday in the village of Myin Thar in Magway’s Gangaw Township, according to locals.

Thirteen members of the group died in the clash, while five villagers—four people in their fifties and an 80-year-old man—were also killed, a local woman told Myanmar Now.

Tun Ngwe, the oldest victim, was shot in the back of the head with his hands tied behind his back, local sources said.

The bodies of those killed during the clash and the subsequent raid were cremated by surviving locals on Friday, the sources added. 

Bodies lie in a pile in Myin Thar, where regime forces killed at least 18 people on September 9 (Supplied)

The local resistance fighters were defeated because they were young and inexperienced and had only antiquated handmade weapons to fight with, according to a relative of one person who was killed in the clash.

“Those from our defence group were kids who had just finished the 9th or 10th grade. They were all still too young. And they were killed in the clash,” the relative said.

A Myin Thar villager who was among those who retrieved the bodies of the local defence members said that eight of the 13 who were killed in the clash appeared to have been shot at close range. 

“Those who were not killed by artillery shells had mostly been shot in the temple by the soldiers. They were hiding when artillery shells hit, but the soldiers who later found them shot them dead for their defiance,” he said.

Clash by the river

Fighting started when junta troops arrived in Myin Thar from the nearby village of Thar Lin, where they had set fire to a house earlier that day. The two villages are on opposite sides of the more than 240-meter-wide Myittha River, with Thar Lin on the west side and Myin Thar on the east. 

After hearing about the raid on Thar Lin, Myin Thar residents moved to put up a barrier near a bridge between the two villages.

The resistance fighters positioned themselves on the eastern side of the river and fought against around 30 soldiers on the opposite side. The Myin Thar fighters initially had the upper hand in the clash, which lasted about an hour. 

We feel so bitter. We won’t forget it till the end of the world – a Myin Thar villager

Armed with primitive weapons, including hunting rifles and pipes filled with gunpowder, the resistance fighters fought against soldiers with AK-47s and other far more advanced guns, said a Myin Thar local who was involved in the clash.

“We managed to fire about 10 rounds that reached their side,” he said, describing how they used their makeshift pipe guns to fire across the river. He added that a number of soldiers were injured in this exchange. 

An infographic released by the National Unity Government’s Ministry of Human Rights shows casualty figures from the raid on Myin Thar (MOHR)

About 45 minutes into the clash, however, another 30 soldiers arrived as reinforcements and started using heavy artillery against them, he said. At this stage, the resistance forces started to sustain casualties and were forced to retreat. 

“They fired four, five rounds of heavy weapons and started advancing. They could see our situation from the other side of the river,” the man told Myanmar Now.

No longer facing any resistance, the soldiers stormed the village and occupied it until the following morning. By this time, however, many villagers had already fled to the forest or nearby farms, while some who were not able to hide took shelter at a Buddhist monastery outside the village. 

‘Terrorist’ resistance

In a statement released on Saturday, the National Unity Government (NUG) said that 11 of those killed on Thursday were under the age of 18. It also said that soldiers torched a total of 36 houses on Thursday and Friday. Locals said the damage was worth tens of millions of kyat. 

“Villagers, including women, children and elders hiding in a local monastery, were held on their knees under the sun. Their phones were [also] destroyed,” the NUG said in its statement. 

The reason for destroying the phones was to prevent people from documenting the aftermath of the raid and sending records to media outlets, according to the villagers.

“We feel so bitter. We won’t forget it till the end of the world,” said one woman. 

On Friday, the military said in a news report that about 50 “terrorists” had attacked soldiers near Myin Thar and its troops had to fire back. The report also said that there were numerous casualties among the attackers. 

The junta has declared the NUG, which was formed by elected members of the civilian government ousted on February 1, a terrorist organisation. It also refers to local armed resistance groups as “terrorists” in its announcements. 

Soldiers set fire to houses in Hnan Khar during a raid on the village on September 10 (Supplied)

After the raid on Myin Thar, about 60 soldiers marched to Hnan Khar, another village in Gangaw Township located on the western side of the Myittha River. Before arriving there at around 8am on Friday, they clashed with members of the Gangaw People’s Defence Force (PDF).

After planting landmines on the way to Hnan Khar, the Gangaw PDF ambushed the soldiers, fatally injuring around 15 of them, according to a statement released by the group.

The troops retreated but returned with reinforcements a few hours later, according to a source close to the Gangaw PDF. A combined force of around 100 soldiers used heavy artillery and machine guns to force the PDF fighters to retreat, the source added.

The soldiers who took control of Hnan Khar proceeded to set fire to houses in the village, destroying at least 36, according to residents. They later left at around 4pm.

No civilian casualties were reported, as the village’s residents had already fled. It was the third time that Hnan Khar had been raided by junta troops, following assaults in June and August

Key battleground

Residents of Hnan Khar were also among the roughly 10,000 people displaced when regime forces started violently cracking down on peaceful anti-coup protests in Gangaw in late March.

The military has been carrying out clearance operations in Gangaw and other Magway townships, including Yesagyo, Myaing, and Pauk, to quell armed resistance to its rule and crush PDF camps. 

Magway is bordered by Sagaing Region to the north and Rakhine and Chin states to the west. All are strongholds of anti-junta resistance and armed rebellion against military rule. 

Security and military experts say that due to its strategically important location, Magway Region will likely be a key battleground in the armed uprising against the coup regime. 

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