Myanmar army storms villages, murders civilians in northwestern resistance stronghold, locals say 

Nine people were killed in a military raid on five villages in Gangaw Township in northwestern Myanmar’s Magway Region after a two-day raid that ended on March 1, according to locals, who also reported that troops burned down more than 250 homes. 

A force of around 200 soldiers and members of pro-army Pyu Saw Htee militias launched attacks first in Kan Toe village at 8am on Monday, then in Shwebo and Thin Taw one mile away. The next day, troops carried out assaults against the villages of Myin Thar and Kone. 

The communities are all located opposite Kalay Township, which lies across the regional border in Sagaing, and is one of the first areas from which civilians in the region took up arms against the Myanmar army as part of the uprising that followed last year’s coup. 

The Myanmar army has responded with brutal crackdowns against civilians, including the use of bombings and airstrikes to destroy villages perceived as supporting the resistance movement. 

The raid begins

In the junta’s first attack on Kan Toe—also known locally as Yae Thar—there were no casualties but one of the village’s 200 homes was torched, a villager said. 

The troops and Pyu Saw Htee members continued to Shwebo, where most of those slain in the raids lived; some seven men from the village were reportedly found dead following the assault. Only two, who had died of gunshot wounds to the head, could be identified: Win Soe, 40, and Tun Zaw, 37.

Gangaw Township in Magway Region, in relation to Yangon and Naypyitaw (Myanmar Now)

Win Soe was found dead near the fence of the village monastery and Tun Zaw was reportedly shot dead on his motorcycle. 

“They were trying to flee when they got shot,” a local woman told Myanmar Now. 

The bodies of the other five men were burnt beyond recognition in a legume field one mile away in Kan Toe, according to a member of the Shwebo village defence force. He said that the men had been acting as security guards for the community, and were armed only with muskets. They ranged in age from 18 to 25. 

“One of the bodies was found with his hands held together as if he was praying. One of the bodies had a broken leg. They were arrested while they were hiding in a nearby trench,” another woman from Shwebo said.

Twenty-five of Shwebo’s 500 homes were also destroyed in the attack. 

From their positions in Kan Toe and Shwebo, the junta forces launched an attack on the village of Thin Taw, according to a local.  

Around 180 of the community’s 200 homes were lost to fires set by the military, and a 50-year-old resident, Tin Win, was shot dead, the local source said. His body was found around 100 yards north of Thin Taw. 

“I don’t think Tin Win managed to flee along with the others. I think he only started to run when the military was about to enter the village. I think he ran into the junta forces coming from the north,” the local man told Myanmar Now. 

According to a villager from Kan Toe, flames could still be seen in Thin Taw at 3pm on February 28. 

The locations of the Gangaw Township villages targeted in the February 28-March1 raids, the villages raided earlier, and the villages that are known strongholds of junta-allied militias (Myanmar Now)

Second day of raids

On March 1, the troops and militia members went on to raid two more villages: Kone and Myin Thar, which had 450 and 500 households, respectively. 

A man from Kone told Myanmar Now that 45 homes were burned down, as were 150 barns used for the storage of legumes and grains grown in the area. 

Soldiers also shot dead 25-year-old Zaw Naing Aye, who is said to have had an intellectual disability and may not have understood that the village was under attack.

“He didn’t realize he had to run, so he just stayed behind. I heard he even stopped by the monastery to give snacks to the elderly people staying there,” the man from Kone said, noting that Zaw Naing Aye was later found with gunshot wounds to the leg, chest and head. 

“I think he was shot in the leg first. There is a turn on the road 500 yards from where the trail of his blood was found. I think he was taken there,” he explained. “Given the way we found him, he  was shot dead on his way home.”

The junta forces occupied Kone for around four hours and looted homes in the village, the local man claimed.

There were no casualties during the March 1 raid on Myin Thar, but three homes were reportedly destroyed by fire. 

The remains of San Myo village, also in Gangaw, which was raided and destroyed by junta forces on January 20 (Hnankhar Youth Group)

Previous attacks and militia involvement 

With the exception of Myin Thar, this week marked the first time that the villages had been targeted for attack by the junta’s forces. Myin Thar has been struck multiple times, with a particularly deadly military assault occurring in September that killed some 18 people, including unarmed civilians.

Myin Thar and Shwebo are located just three and eight miles from Hnan Khar, respectively; the village has been repeatedly raided and also targeted in lethal junta air attacks. Shwebo is also 11 miles from San Myo, which was “reduced to ashes” by occupying junta troops in December. 

The five villages targeted in the most recent raids are also located near the northern and southern Khin Yan villages—known strongholds of the junta-backed Pyu Saw Htee.

Locals claimed that the soldiers and militia members involved in the attacks came from northern and southern Khin Yan, as well as Kokka and Hanthawaddy villages in northern Gangaw Township.

At the time of reporting, the full extent of the damage to the villages was not known, as junta forces were believed to still be occupying the area and locals displaced by the assaults had not yet returned to their homes. 

Myanmar Now has not received any photos of those allegedly killed in the raids or of the damage inflicted to village homes, as internet access to the area has been cut off. 

The military council has not released a statement on the attacks. 

Increasingly present during military raids are members of the Myanmar army-allied Pyu Saw Htee militias, 77 of which have been armed by the junta in neighbouring Sagaing Region alone, according to leaked documents from a military council meeting on February 13.

Junta chief minister for the region Myat Kyaw requested in the meeting that civil servants sympathetic to the military also be armed, and noted that the armed forces did not have full control over Sagaing. 

List of the deceased

Zaw Naing Aye, 25 (Kone)

Thar Nyi, 18 (Shwebo)

Wai Yan Oo, 18 (Shwebo)

Zin Min Htut, 22 (Shwebo)

Nyein Chan Maung, 22 (Shwebo)

Hla Soe, 25 (Shwebo)

Win Soe, 40 (Shwebo)

Tun Zaw, 37 (Shwebo)

Tin Win, 50 (Thin Taw)

Editor’s Note: This story was updated, expanded and re-published on March 8 to include details of the raids which were reported on Tuesday, March 1, as well as to clarify details of the alleged crimes in the first three villages targeted on Monday, February 28

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