Children among those killed as Myanmar military shells monastery sheltering civilians

Two children were among six locals killed during a military raid on Letpan Taw village in Sagaing Region’s Yinmabin Township on Tuesday morning.

A junta column of more than 150 soldiers carried out the attack—the first on the village since the military coup in Myanmar in February last year. One night earlier, the troops had occupied the community of Si Laung some five miles away, then moved towards Letpan Taw, according to a member of a local resistance group. 

On the condition of anonymity, he explained that the assault began with artillery fire into Letpan Taw, which caused the civilian casualties. 

“They fired a 60mm shell from the bridge at the entrance of the village at around 10am and it hit the monastery where the villagers were staying,” the member of the local anti-junta defence force said. 

Among the victims were Tin Nyunt, 50; Than Maung, 60; Than Hla, 60; and her five-year-old grandson Myat Bhone Naing. Two more bodies, including one of a child, have yet to be positively identified. At the time of reporting, villagers had still not been able to retrieve the bodies from the site of the shelling. 

The Myanmar army soldiers who assaulted the village “came out of nowhere,” according to Myat Ko, a spokesperson for the Chindwin Yoma Alliance of local defence forces, which is active in the area. 

He noted that the community is bounded by a stream on two sides, which essentially trapped the civilians when the attack was launched from the northeast. 

“The village is surrounded by the Yamar stream to both the east and the south, so it was very hard for us to find escape routes,” Myat Ko said. “We haven’t had to flee anywhere before this. We just didn’t think they’d come all the way to Letpan Taw.”

“More damage was done because we didn’t have enough time to flee,” he added.

Following the attack, the surviving villagers who had been staying in the monastery did manage to leave the area as junta troops closed in and occupied Letpan Taw. 

The defence force alliance attacked the soldiers in the afternoon, with fighting continuing until 5pm. They claimed to have inflicted multiple casualties on the junta’s side, with two of their own resistance fighters suffering injuries. 

Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the defence forces’ account of the clash. 

Following the battle, the military column left Letpan Taw and occupied the monastery in neighbouring Kan Thar village as of 9pm on Tuesday. 

Thousands of locals were displaced from Si Laung, Letpan Taw and Kan Thar by the fighting, as well as from other area villages including Aung Chan Thar, Mya Yeik, Shan Ywar, Shwe Su and Thakyar Satt. 

On Sunday, the military also fired an artillery shell into a camp for internally displaced persons in Taze Township and abducted four men from the site, just three days after cutting off internet access to most of Sagaing Region. 

Myanmar Now tried to contact junta officials for comment on the reported shelling, civilian deaths and clash in Yinmabin Township but the calls went unanswered. 

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 1,623 civilians have been killed by the junta’s forces since the coup. 

The military council has dismissed the organisation’s figures as inaccurate and inflated.

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