Content warning: This report contains graphic images depicting the effects of extreme violence, which may be upsetting to some readers. We advise discretion in viewing this content.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of committing another mass killing of civilians, this time at a monastery in a village in southern Shan State’s Pinlaung Township.
The latest incident, which comes just weeks after junta troops allegedly murdered 17 villagers in Sagaing Region’s Myinmu Township earlier this month, occurred on Saturday in the village of Nanneint, resistance sources there said.
Photographs posted online on Sunday showed several blood-soaked bodies near the entrance to the village monastery, including three belonging to Buddhist monks. The front of the monastery was also heavily pockmarked with bullet holes.
The photos, published by the anti-regime Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) and independently verified by Myanmar Now, clearly show gunshot wounds to the victims’ heads and other parts of their bodies.
According to a KNDF spokesperson, a total of 22 bodies have since been recovered, while another seven are believed to still be at the site.
“There are seven more bodies behind the monastery that we haven’t been able to collect yet,” the spokesperson said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
In addition to the three monks, two boys in their early teens were among the dead, all of whom were said to be male residents of the village.
Since the middle of last year, the KNDF and allied People’s Defence Force troops operating under the command of the publicly mandated National Unity Government have steadily expanded their control over Karenni (Kayah) State and ethnic Karenni areas of southern Shan State.
These efforts, which have enjoyed strong local support, have been redoubled since the start of this year, resulting in a number of successful operations against junta forces in the area.
On February 24, the KNDF and its allies attacked a checkpoint manned by regime troops and members of the Pa-O Nationalities Organisation (PNO), an ethnic armed group aligned with the regime, near the village of Saung Pyaung in Pinlaung.
That incident triggered a series of clashes that have since impacted several villages in the area, including Pin-pone, Lone Pyin, Taung Me Thin, and Nanneint.
The fighting has also resulted in heavy junta casualties, the KNDF’s deputy commander, Mar Wi, claimed in an interview with Myanmar Now.
When regime reinforcements arrived in Nanneint on Saturday, they found the village largely deserted, as most of its inhabitants had already fled weeks earlier. However, the abbot of the monastery had refused to leave, so two fellow monks and around 30 male lay supporters stayed behind, according to a village resident.
The KNDF said that it first detected the bodies at around 8am on Saturday while scouting the village with drones. However, it was unable to enter the village until the following day due to the regime’s aerial bombardment, the group added.
Pinlaung is one of three townships in southern Shan State comprising the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone. While the PNO has joined forces with the regime, Pa-O youths opposed to the junta have formed their own armed group, the Pa-O National Defence Force, which has fought alongside the KNDF.
According to a member of a local resistance group, the regime troops responsible for the killings in Nanneint on Saturday also set fire to a number of buildings in the village on the same day.
Speaking to a pro-regime media outlet on Monday, the regime’s spokesperson, Gen. Zaw Min Tun, rejected claims that the military had carried out a massacre of civilians at the monastery, insisting that the victims were all members of armed groups.
“These armed groups initiated the attack and then entered the village and fired some shots. We have now seized their bodies and their weapons,” he was quoted as saying.