Thousands flee as army and Pyu Saw Htee raid, torch western Depayin Township

Junta soldiers and Pyu Saw Htee militia members attempted to intimidate locals, leaving messages identifying themselves as the Ogre Column, which is notorious for brutally killing civilians

Raids by junta troops and Pyu Saw Htee militias displaced more than 5,000 civilians on the west bank of the Mu River in Depayin (Tabayin) Township, Sagaing Region on Saturday. 

After a column of more than 100 soldiers and militia members advanced west from Depayin’s urban centre into the villages of Hman Thar and Wa Bar, the soldiers and militia members burned down four rice barns and seven of Wa Bar’s 200 houses, destroying around 800 tin (41 litres) of rice.

According to a member of the Internally Displaced Persons’ Assistance Group working in the area, the Pyu Saw Htee members in the junta column may have had personal motives for destroying the Wa Bar villagers’ houses and food supplies.

“They were ordinary people’s houses. Chances are that the Pyu set the fires out of personal animosity,” said the assistance group member, referring to the militia by a shortened name.

The junta column’s raids forced around 5,000 residents from twelve villages in western Depayin Township to flee their homes and seek shelter in the nearby woods. 

Junta soldiers and militia members also wrote threatening words on the walls of a house in Wabar Village, claiming to be affiliated with an army unit known as the Ogre Column, the assistance group leader said, citing local sources.

The Ogre Column is notorious for having left the corpses of captured local residents and alleged resistance fighters dismembered and beheaded in Sagaing Region in March of this year, displaying the bodies in the open and distributing photographs of them to terrorise civilians.

The words ‘Ogre Column’ written by junta soldiers in a house
in Wa Bar village (Supplied)

According to local resistance fighters, the column currently raiding villages in Depayin Township was originally based in in Ye-U Township. It came to Depayin on Friday on after having raided Ye-U and Khin-U townships last week. 

While in Khin-U Township, the same soldiers reportedly killed a brother and sister living in a guard tent before stealing their earrings. 

According to a local resistance leader, since leaving Depayin the junta forces have fought with resistance forces at least once a day.

“Sometimes, the column vanishes; they blend into the surrounding fields during the planting season. Since they’re aware of surveillance from our drones, we can assume that they know to take cover,” the resistance leader said. 

He added that there were no casualties on the resistance side from the fighting, and that the number of casualties on the junta side was unconfirmed.

Sagaing Region has become a hotbed of armed conflict after many years of peace before the military coup of 2021. 

Armed resistance groups maintain a strong presence in Depayin, which has strategic significance because of its proximity and the relative ease of access it provides to the towns of Shwebo, Ye-U, Budalin, and Kani. Junta forces often come under attack by resistance groups in the town, and the army has deployed a large number of troops there in an effort to regain control. 

In August of this year, the monitoring group Data for Myanmar reported that 70,324 homes had been destroyed since the 2021 coup in arson attacks by the army and its subordinate militias. 53,816 of these houses were located in Sagaing Region. 

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