Junta armed forces target villages along Ayeyarwady River in central Myanmar arson campaign

The Myanmar army set fire to multiple villages along stretches of the Ayeyarwady River running through Sagaing Region in recent days, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings of religious and historic significance. 

A military operation that started along the eastern shore of the Ayeyarwady River on May 16 in Katha and Htigyaing escalated within three days to a May 19 clash with resistance forces near the village of Thapyay Thar in Katha, according to local sources. 

Immediately following the battle, the junta troops in the area proceeded to torch Thapyay Thar—the extent of damage to which was not known—as well as the neighbouring village of Inn, where a mosque was demolished. 

Houses burn in Inn village in Katha Township on May 19 (Supplied)

“There’s nothing left of the mosque. They even destroyed the house of the imam’s family in the mosque compound,” an Inn resident told Myanmar Now.  

That afternoon, the military fired a 60mm artillery shell west from Inn village which landed one mile away on a monastery in Pay Lan Kone, according to an officer from the People’s Defence Force (PDF) chapter from Takaung. The township is also located on the Ayeyarwady’s eastern shore but in Mandalay Region, and its PDF has been fighting the junta in the area alongside guerrilla forces from Katha and Htigyaing. 

“The shell fell through the roof, onto the floor, and then detonated,” the PDF officer said of the artillery that hit the Pay Lan Kone monastery’s dining hall. 

Seven novices aged 12 and under were injured when the shell exploded, and the mother of one of the young monks was also killed, he told Myanmar Now.

“It fell right on the table where the mother and her novice son were sitting, and they both suffered injuries to their legs,” the PDF officer explained. “We were able to save the young novice but his mother bled to death on her way to the hospital, about one hour after the shell exploded.”

A novice injured in an artillery explosion at a monastery in Katha Township is seen undergoing emergency treatment on May 19 (Supplied)

The injured boys were taken to the Shwegu Township hospital in Kachin State, more than 30 miles away. 

Over the weekend, another junta column of around 100 troops overran Min Tan, a village in Sagaing’s southern Myaung Township, also on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River. The soldiers reportedly set fire to 100 of the community’s 400 homes and several buildings of cultural and religious significance.  

The military unit arrived late Saturday afternoon and until midnight systematically torched houses, pagodas, and at least three community halls, including one made from teak and dating back to the 1940s, multiple locals told Myanmar Now. 

“We tried to get close to the village to put out the fires but they shot at anything that was moving,” a resident said, adding that three other villagers who had been trapped in Min Tan had managed to escape safely. 

Map of Min Tan village in Myaung Township and Inn and Thapyay Thar villages in Katha Township (Myanmar Now)

Citing their eyewitness accounts, he told Myanmar Now that the soldiers had been deliberate in perpetrating the arson, and appeared to “take their time” in ensuring the buildings would burn. 

A member of the Myaung PDF questioned why Min Tan had been targeted, noting that there had been no clashes around the village.  

“It was not this bad in other villages, because the villagers were able to put out the fire as soon as the soldiers left,” the resistance fighter said, adding that the troops stayed until Sunday morning. “We couldn’t do the same as they didn’t leave for a long time. The defence forces were not even able to focus on fighting back as we had to deal with the fire first.” 

He also described the arson as systematic, and said that the junta troops stole livestock and food from Min Tan during the attack. 

The column went on to carry out a similar assault on the neighbouring village of Anyun, but the damage to the community was not yet confirmed at the time of reporting. The junta has also cut off internet access to the township. 

Recent military raids on southern Myaung villages began on May 17, and have caused the destruction of more than 200 homes in some seven communities, according to the Civilians’ Defence and Security Organisation of Myaung (CDSOM).

They also extended into Yesagyo, where more than 140 homes were burned by junta forces, locals said. 

“It’s become apparent that the military is preparing for a war. This column was fully equipped with weapons that the previous ones did not have. They even had [phone] signal jammers,” CDSOM spokesperson Nway Oo told Myanmar Now. 

According to a May 1 report published by Data for Myanmar, more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed by the military since the February 2021 coup nationwide; half were in Sagaing. 

The military council has repeatedly denied responsibility for such attacks, instead blaming resistance forces for the arson. 

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