Villagers displaced by clearance operations in Sagaing Region’s Depayin Township were forced to flee again on Saturday after regime forces set fire to their temporary shelters.
Thousands of local civilians have been hiding in nearby fields and forests since the military launched a major offensive against resistance forces in the township late last month.
Residents of Inboke, one of more than a dozen affected villages, told Myanmar Now that troops torched at least 20 huts located in fields around the village during a series of raids on Saturday.
At one location about a mile from the village, around 70 troops burned down four huts as those who had been sheltering in them fled to a forested area, according to a villager who witnessed the incident.
“The four huts were all in a row. Many of us had to run into the woods. They torched those huts and everything in them was lost,” said a 55-year-old woman who was among those who escaped.
According to the woman, four motorcycles, a bicycle, and more than 40 litres of rice were destroyed. A farmhouse was also ransacked and robbed of its valuables, she added.
Another woman who was unable to get away said she watched the soldiers as she hid from their sight.
“I saw them smash a couple of motorcycles and a bicycle, and also some earthen jars. Then they set everything on fire, including the haystacks. I saw it all, but all I could do was watch,” said the woman.
At another farm near the village, around 40 people escaped to a nearby forest, where they joined about 70 others already sheltering there, according to one Inboke villager.
“We are now living under trees and bushes. We left without food, so we had to go back later to get oil and rice,” he said.
After raiding at least 10 sites, a convoy of military vehicles arrived in Aung Si Myay, a village of more than 100 households, on Saturday evening, a local resident told Myanmar Now.
The entire population of the village, which had been raided three times before, fled before the convoy arrived, he added.
“We took everything we could in carts. We brought food and water, and didn’t leave anybody behind,” he said, noting that during one raid in mid-November, a 42-year-old man named Than Hteik was tied to a tree and tortured to death.
A Depayin resident involved in efforts to assist the displaced villagers denounced the military’s actions, saying that the regime appeared to be intent on terrorizing civilians in the area.
“These are people who have already abandoned their homes, and now they are being robbed and terrorized again. There are no words to describe this kind of cruelty,” he said.