Military shells, torches villages in central Myanmar’s Yelaekyun area, leaving five dead

Junta columns rampaged through the Yelaekyun area of Magway Region this week, killing five civilians and setting fires in dozens of villages and destroying over 600 houses, according to a local defence team.

Between May 26 and 30, hundreds of soldiers advanced from two different directions, a spokesperson of the local defence team said, and carried out arson attacks in 27 of some 40 villages in the area, situated on an island in Yesagyo Township at the confluence of the Chindwin and Ayeyarwady rivers.

Khin Aye Po, a 35-year-old woman from Mi Hpa Yar village, was killed by an explosive shell on May 26, the defence team spokesperson said. Four villagers between 40 and 60 years old from Nan U, Yae Shar and Me Kone villages were shot dead at close range in the next few days.

Junta columns reportedly crossed the Chindwin River from Yesagyo, located on the west bank, and started a raid on Mi Hpa Yar village, located in the Yelaekyun east of the river, on the morning of May 26. Junta forces reportedly shelled the village using heavy artillery during the raid.

“They started firing heavy artillery shells just as they were reaching the village. [Khin Aye Po] was trying to flee when the blast hit her in the back of her head,” the spokesperson said.

On May 27, two Nan U village residents–who were among a group sheltering at a community hall–were killed by soldiers, who had advanced northwest across the Ayeyarwady River from Myingyan Township, Mandalay Region, according to another local resident.

Wai Lwin, 44, was caught and then executed with a gunshot to the head, according to the Nan U resident. Than Zaw Moe, 40, was shot dead when trying to escape.

“They were in the soldiers’ path as they returned. The soldiers took the villagers captive, beat them and told them to keep their heads down. But Wai Lwin looked up and was shot in the head. The other one was shot while trying to flee,” the Nan U resident said.

According to the same source, an artillery shell that landed and detonated near the community hall also injured 11 people, including six children. He added that the soldiers destroyed more than 70 houses in Nan U by arson.

“They just started torching the houses right away as soon as they arrived at the village. They stopped in the car park in the monastery yard and started throwing torches at the houses,” he said.

Zaw Win, 44, tried to put out the fires and was shot dead.

The military also shot at local people trying to contain the fires in Me Kone village on May 28,  killing a 65-year-old villager named Phoe Htay.

The defence team spokesperson stated that it would be difficult to retaliate, as the military was now holding the captured local civilians as hostages.

“There wasn’t any fighting as they didn’t come from the direction that we were expecting. They came via off-roads and had around 20 hostages with them when they arrived, so there wasn’t much we could do,” he said.

“They set fires in every village where we had people present,” he added.

The two junta columns reportedly met on May 29 and moved towards Yesagyo together.

A total of 28 villages in the confluence area came under siege by the military forces, and over 600 houses from 27 villages were destroyed by arson attacks, according to information gathered by the Yesagyo Township People’s Defence Team (PDT).

The villagers had already been coping with economic hardship less than three weeks after Cyclone Mocha disrupted farming in the Yelaekyun area.

“The flood did irreparable damage to the farms, and then the two military columns came. They just had to add to our misfortune by raiding right after the storm. I would just like to appeal to anyone who can to help us rehabilitate our villages,” the PDT spokesperson said.

Yesagyo and Myingyan Townships, with the location of the Yelaekyun area (Supplied)

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