Regime forces have torched several villages in Sagaing Region’s Depayin Township over the past two days in retaliation for an ambush carried out by anti-junta groups on Tuesday, according to local sources.
Among the villages that were attacked was Letyetkone, the site of a deadly airstrike that left at least 13 civilians, including six children, dead last September.
Resistance forces said they opened fire on a column of around 130 junta troops near the village at about 7am on Tuesday, killing at least eight.
“We were waiting for them in position and shot them at a very close range, so we could clearly see them dying,” said an officer of the Shwebo District People’s Defence Force (PDF), which took part in the attack with members of a local defence team.
Several resistance fighters were injured in the ensuing exchange of fire, which lasted about 30 minutes, he added.
Speaking to Myanmar Now on Wednesday, the PDF officer said that after the initial clash, the junta soldiers proceeded to set fire to houses in Letyetkone. Fighting later resumed when they moved on to the nearby villages of Nyaung Hla and Thayet Taw.
“After we stopped fighting last night, they torched even more houses, and they’re still at it now. Entire villages are gone,” he said.
The leader of the local defence team said that around 30 soldiers were seen on Wednesday carrying their injured away in stretchers. Using drone cameras, resistance scouts watched as the wounded troops were taken on foot to neighbouring Ye-U Township, where vehicles were waiting to pick them up.
“They walked from Nyaung Hla to the dam in Ye-U, carrying other soldiers in stretchers. The cars that were waiting for them used back roads to get there,” he said.
A Letyetkone resident who returned to the village after the attack to survey the damage said that around 35 houses had been destroyed. A similar raid in December left more than 200 in ruins.
“We just finished trying to rebuild the village, and now we have to start all over again. But it’s too early to go back yet, because we still don’t know if they planted landmines,” he said.
Nyaung Hla also lost more than 200 houses in December. Locals said they couldn’t determine the extent of the latest damage to the village because it was still occupied by junta troops.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of carrying out hundreds of arson attacks in resistance strongholds across the country, destroying tens of thousands of houses and other buildings. Sagaing Region has been especially hard hit.
According to Depayin Brothers, a local group that has been collecting conflict-related data in Depayin, regime forces have burned down nearly 5,000 houses in the township since the military seized power in February 2021.
The junta has denied these claims, however, insisting that resistance forces are responsible for the massive loss of property incurred by civilians since the coup.
On Wednesday, junta mouthpieces reported that PDF groups and the Kachin Independence Army had torched a total of 1,122 houses in Sagaing Region and Kachin State between November 13 and December 17, 2022.
But most independent observers, including the UN human rights agency OHCHR, have concluded that almost all deliberate destruction of civilian property over the past two years has been carried out by troops under the command of Myanmar’s military leaders.