Sagaing villagers forced to wear military uniforms in ploy to prevent attacks

Regime troops have been forcing villagers in Sagaing Region’s Wetlet Township to dress like soldiers and march at the head of their column in a bid to fend off attacks, according to local resistance sources.

The column in question began advancing on Thit Seint Gyi, a village on the western bank of the Ayeyarwady River some 18km east of the town of Wetlet, late last week. 

Sources say the column of around 100 soldiers abducted at least 20 civilians along the way and another 20 when it arrived in Thit Seint Gyi late Tuesday.

Those who were captured were interrogated and then used as human shields, according to an officer from the GZ Special Task Force-Wetlet, an anti-regime group operating in the area.

“I heard they beat their prisoners during interrogation. What they wanted to know was where they could find the local resistance forces,” said the officer.

He added that the military also forced some of the abductees to wear military uniforms and walk at the front of the column.

“According to intel from our scouts, they forced some of the abducted locals to wear military uniforms, carry their baggage and walk at the front of the column, so groups like ours don’t attack them,” he said.

The troops marching through Wetlet have also been accused of torching hundreds of homes in the township, including in the villages of Magyi Thone Pin, Pale Thwe, Maung Kone and Hmethti.

Last Saturday, there were reports that they had killed at least three people, including a resident of Hmethti.

After the column arrived in Thit Seint Gyi, hundreds of people living in other villages in the same village tract, including Kadoh, Hlay Poh Seik, Ywar Thit, Yae Kan Poh, Kyar Kwin, and Htone Bo villages, reportedly fled their homes.

“We all know we have to run once they arrive, or else we’ll be interrogated or taken as hostages,” said one local who did not want to be named.

He added that some of the soldiers in the column that has been moving through the area were women.

While this could not be confirmed, it is consistent with reports that the wives of soldiers have increasingly been called upon to go into active duty amid high casualty rates and low recruitment numbers in the Myanmar military since last year’s coup.

Smoke rises from Padauk, a village in Sagaing Region’s Kanbalu Township, after it was attacked by junta troops on May 17 (Supplied)

Meanwhile, there have also been reports of widespread attacks on villages in the Chat Thin village tract, in Sagaing’s Kanbalu Township, in recent days.

According to resistance forces active in the area, a column of around 60 soldiers and 40 members of the military-backed Pyu Saw Htee militia destroyed 38 houses in four villages on Tuesday.

A resident of Kin Kyi, one of the villages that was targeted, said that the junta forces had a list of homes that were to be singled out for destruction.

“They chose the houses systematically. They went after property owned by families with ties to the revolutionary forces,” he said, adding that his own home was among those that had been burned to the ground.

Local resistance groups say they attacked the military column responsible for the raids, but no details regarding junta casualties were available at the time of reporting.

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