Warning: This story contains photos and descriptions of violence that may be disturbing to some readers.
A video recorded by local resistance forces in Sagaing Region’s Pale Township on Wednesday revealed that three men captured and executed by the Myanmar army during a raid one day earlier in the village of Nyaung Kone had also been dismembered.
In the single minute of footage posted on the “Black Leopard Army” Facebook page, two severed heads are seen sitting on wooden chairs in the middle of the village, as another hangs from a nearby bamboo fence. The headless bodies of three men are also present, appearing to have endured cruel acts of torture. One of the bodies had a hand removed, stuffed into the victim’s wounded abdomen.
A piece of rope and a pool of blood was found near one of the bodies.
“It appears that they dragged him along the ground with a noose around his neck,” said Nay Thurein, a Pale-based activist with ties to the local resistance fighters who found the bodies.
The deceased were identified as a 50-year-old Nyaung Kone village defence team member, a 30-year-old member of the People’s Defence Force (PDF), and a 27-year-old civilian.
The post on the Black Leopard Army social media page said that the perpetrators had written “Kyar Balu” Column—or Tiger Ogre Column—in white paint on the forehead of the decapitated head that belonged to the PDF member.
Both the name and the brutality of the killings bring to mind another notorious unit of soldiers from Light Infantry Division 99 based in Meiktila, Mandalay Region, which calls itself the Ogre Column. The group has been terrorising villages in central Myanmar, and is linked to the murder and mutilation of several other victims, including civilians and members of the resistance.
The soldiers, who resistance sources believe were from the Hmawbi-based Light Infantry Battalion 703 under the Yangon Region Military Command, had arrived in Nyaung Kone unannounced on Tuesday, looting homes before advancing east to nearby Kan Gyi village that evening.
“The people’s defence groups, the people’s administration group and locals tried to slowly get back into the village from its western border, but [the soldiers] started shooting at us when we were only 40 to 50 feet away from them,” said an officer in Battalion 19 of the Yinmabin District PDF.
Two local administrators were among those wounded, along with the three victims who became trapped in Nyaung Kone as others fled.
A funeral for the victims was held on Wednesday afternoon.
The 80-soldier junta column behind the murders has since returned to a base in Salingyi Township, according to local resistance forces. They have also been linked to other village raids in Pale, and had been travelling through the township to distribute supplies to village strongholds of the pro-military Pyu Saw Htee militias.
“They looted and ransacked the houses in other villages but they didn’t kill anyone in those villages. It appears they wanted to scare the PDF,” local activist Nay Thurein said. “The junta column was trying to avoid clashing with defence groups as much as possible. You could even say that they used guerrilla techniques against us. We fell into their trap.”
Nyaung Kone, located less than 10km from Pale town, was also the target of a deadly airstrike in late June that killed 10 locals.