The massacre that lasted from midnight till dawn

The 14 people murdered in the village of Sone Chaung on July 21 are just the latest victims of dozens of massacres committed by Myanmar’s military over the past two and a half years

July 21 started with a downpour in Sone Chaung, a village located on the western bank of the Chindwin River opposite Sagaing Region’s capital Monywa. By morning, however, the village would be the scene of a bloodbath.

Arriving under the cover of night, and with the sound of their approach drowned out by the heavy rain, a column of around 60 junta troops entered Sone Chaung shortly after midnight. Going from house to house, the soldiers awakened residents of the northern part of the village by shining flashlights in their faces.

“At first we thought it was someone who had come to warn us that the military had arrived in the village,” said one resident. “We didn’t really realise who they were until they threatened to shoot us if we didn’t get up.”

The soldiers said they were looking for a man named Myo Myint Oo, the leader of the village’s defence team. They soon found him at his home and arrested him along with his brother, Myo Myint Swe. At the same time, everyone else in the house, including the children, was forced to lie face down on the ground as the soldiers helped themselves to their belongings—everything from their mobile phones to the rice and curries in their pots.

Sensing the presence of intruders, neighbourhood dogs started barking and howling, alerting residents of the southern part of the village that something was amiss. When they went out to see what it was, they soon learned what was causing the commotion.

“The dogs woke me up. When we heard someone move, we turned on the flashlight and saw soldiers pointing their guns at our chests,” said a resident of the southern part of Sone Chaung.

These soldiers were looking for two other men—Kyaw Oo and Yan Naing Soe. Once they found them, they tied them up and interrogated them at Kyaw Oo’s house. Soldiers in uniform and plainclothes took turns kicking and beating them as they lay on the muddy ground, demanding that the pair tell them where they were hiding their weapons.

“They both denied that they had any weapons and said that they weren’t involved in any revolutionary activity. But the soldiers said they had an exact list of people to arrest,” said another villager who witnessed the incident.

Sone Chaung villagers surround a vehicle carrying the bodies of fellow residents killed by junta troops on July 21 (Supplied)

A long line of massacres

Sone Chaung is in northeastern Yinmabin Township, which was one of the first places in Myanmar to take up arms against the regime that seized power in February 2021.

As it continues to struggle to contain resistance to its rule, the junta has resorted to indiscriminate violence against both its opponents and local civilians. According to the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), the regime has committed 64 massacres, each involving the death of at least five people, over the past two and a half years—more than half of them in Sagaing Region.

Between midnight and dawn on July 21, Sone Chaung would become the scene of the latest in this long line of massacres. By morning, junta forces would kill a total of 14 people—no more than half of them members of the resistance. Some of the victims would also bear the marks of horrific torture.

The targets of the raid were Myo Myint Oo, 42, Kyaw Oo, 46, and Yan Naing Soe, 47, who were each sought by name. All three were members of the village’s defence team. The nine others who were killed were either innocent bystanders or local youths who had volunteered to help protect their village.

At one point during the “questioning” of Kyaw Oo and Yan Naing Soe, a shot was fired that could be heard all over the village. Soon after, a man named Htay Zaw called Kyaw Oo on his mobile phone, apparently to find out what was going on. The soldiers soon tracked him down and arrested him at his home with two other men, Naing Min and Kyaw Zin Tun, who were both just local civilians. It was unclear at the time of reporting if Htay Zaw was a member of the resistance. All three were taken to Kyaw Oo’s house.

By this time, less than two hours into the raid, the soldiers had seven people in their custody—Myo Myint Oo and his brother in the northern part of the village, and five at Kyaw Oo’s house. Meanwhile, the junta troops continued to loot the homes of villagers, reportedly robbing two wealthy families of appliances, gold, jewellery, and 13.5 million kyat (US$6,400) in cash.

Residents of Sone Chaung carry the body of one of the 14 people killed by Myanmar’s military on July 21 (Supplied)

Tortured youths

At around 2am, a member of the village defence team instructed 10 youths who were on guard duty to investigate what was happening in the southern part of the village. Eight of them agreed to go, but not before reporting to Myo Myint Oo, the leader of their defence team.

The eight youths formed into two groups and made their way towards Myo Myint Oo’s house. About halfway there, however, a blast went off, and the four at the front suddenly fell. This was followed by gunfire, which forced the other four, who had only two light weapons between them, to flee. The first four, meanwhile, were captured alive.

All four members of this group were tortured. Their faces were slashed, and they were also beaten over the head and stabbed in the stomach. Three of them—Sai Thu San, Nay Min Tun, Pyae Phyo Tun—were subsequently executed, while one was kept alive. Lwin Moe Tun, who like the others in his group was just 17 years old, was taken to Myo Myint Oo’s house, where he was subjected to further torture.

As dawn approached, all three of the captives—Myo Myint Oo, his brother Myo Myint Swe, and Lwin Moe Tun—were moved to Kyaw Oo’s house in the southern part of the village. On the way there, four other villagers were also taken hostage. Together with the five who were already being held there, that meant that a total of 12 people were now in the soldiers’ custody.

These hostages were taken from Kyaw Oo’s house shortly after sunrise and led, with their hands tied behind their backs, to a nearby hill that had been granted to veterans who had lost limbs while serving in the military. It was only after the junta column was well out of sight that the terrified residents of Sone Chaung began to emerge from their homes.

The bodies of the three dead youths who had been tortured and murdered during the night were soon discovered, raising fears for the safety of the dozen people still being held captive.

“There was nothing we could do but pray,” said a relative of one of the 12 hostages.

Relentless attacks

As preparations were being made to cremate the three dead youths, pro-junta Telegram channels began posting reports about Sone Chaung, claiming that six members of the anti-regime People’s Defence Force (PDF) had been killed in the village and that 11 weapons and explosives had been captured. 

By studying the photos, the villagers were able to identify some of the dead and locate their bodies. During their search, they found a total of 11 bodies; only one of the hostages had survived. Altogether, then, 14 people were murdered by regime forces in Sone Chaung in the early hours of July 21.

Photos seen by Myanmar Now revealed the extent of the cruelty inflicted on the junta’s victims. In addition to being stabbed and bludgeoned, some were also burned and had strips of flesh cut off of them. The bodies were dumped at different locations along the path that the soldiers used as they left the village. It took almost the whole day to collect all of them, because the retreating soldiers also fired heavy artillery at those who had come to retrieve the remains of the dead villagers.

The pro-military Telegram channels claimed that Sone Chaung was a PDF stronghold—something denied by residents, who said that the village’s defence team was not affiliated with the NUG-formed armed group. They also noted that the village was just minutes away from a military base, making it an unlikely place for the PDF to operate.

“We have our own village security team, but that’s it,” said one member of the team.

Besides it proximity to Monywa, where the headquarters of the Northwestern Regional Military Command is located, Sone Chaung is also the hometown of General Myat Thet Oo, a former commander of the Southeastern Regional Military Command currently serving as the junta’s ambassador to Laos.

Despite its ties to the military, Sone Chaung has been the target of four raids since the 2021 coup. Residents say they don’t know why the regime has singled them out, but some noted that it appears to have informants telling them exactly who to go after.

Meanwhile, most of the village’s inhabitants remain displaced after this latest attack, joining the nearly two million now estimated to be homeless due to the junta’s relentless assaults on civilian targets.

For the victims, including the father of Myo Myint Oo and Myo Myint Swe, frustration is growing with the international response to the crisis in Myanmar.

“Please stop releasing statements and actually do something that helps us,” he said, adding that he had nothing but pride for his two sons, who lost their lives trying to protect their fellow villagers from the regime’s violence.

“They wrote their own destinies,” he said.


The victims of the Sone Chaung massacre:

Myo Myint Oo, 42

Myo Myint Swe, 39

Kyaw Oo, 46

Yan Naing Soe, 47

Htay Zaw, 53

Naing Min, 35

Kyaw Zin Tun, 28

Sai Thu San, 17

Pyae Phyo Tun, 17

Nay Min Tun, 17

Aung Win Swe, 51

Lwin Moe Tun, 17

Zaw Win, 43

Phoe Aung, 46

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