The death toll could rise because the area is ‘now like a battlefield,’ ethnic armed group says.
Myanmar troops burned alive 19 civilians, including eight minors, on Wednesday, relatives of the dead, witnesses and a spokesman for the shadow government said, in the latest atrocity committed by junta soldiers in the country’s civil war.
The attack came in the south-central Bago region, where junta troops were fighting ethnic Karen rebels and members of the People’s Defense Force, a loose group of ordinary people who have taken up arms since the February 2021 military coup.
The slaughter came hours after remote mine attacks by rebels. Junta forces arrested people living in Nyaung Pin Thar village in Htantabin township and burned them to death around 5 p.m. on May 10, residents said.
Five members of the same family, including a 6-year-old, were killed, said a relative.
“The military junta forces just killed them like that,” another villager said.
The initial count was 18 dead, but on Friday, the Karen National Union, the political wing of the Karen National Liberation Army, announced that another resident had been burned to death in Nyaung Pin Thar village of Htantabin township.
Junta forces are still near the village and the death toll could be higher because the area is now like a battlefield, the KNU’s statement said.
The junta’s military’s 44th Battalion and units of 73rd, 599, 590 and 48 Light Infantry Divisions are operating the region and fighting with the KNU and its affiliate armed groups, according to the statement.
The shadow National Unity Government, or NUG, and witnesses told Radio Free Asia that the victims ranged in age from 5 to 70 years old.
“They killed a total of 18 innocent villagers, 10 women and eight men,” NUG spokesman Nay Phone Latt said, adding that most of the adults killed were over 50.
“This is yet another massacre committed by the military council,” he said, referring to the junta which has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist since seizing power in a February 2021 coup.
The troops killed the villagers after a battle broke out between them and joint forces from the Karen National Liberation Army and the anti-junta People’s Defense Force near Nyaung Pin Thar village, said a local militia member.
“We detonated landmines about 15 times and about 30 junta soldiers were killed,” he said. “After that, the junta troops advanced to Nyaung Pin Thar village. More battles broke out there too.”
“We only found out last night, after the battles ended, that they had killed the villagers,” said a member of the local People’s Defense Force, a loose grouping of ordinary people who have taken up arms to fight the military. “We found the bodies only this morning.”
The 73rd and 36th infantry battalions based in Htantabin township raided other nearby villages including Nyaung Pin Thar and killed local villagers, he said.
He also said that during the battle, anti-regime forces killed about 20 junta soldiers and captured three officers.
RFA could not reach Bago region military junta spokesman Tin Oo or junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment.
Junta troops have conducted 64 mass killings across Myanmar between the Feb. 1, 2021 coup and mid-march 2023, resulting in the deaths of 766 people, according to the NUG’s Ministry of Human Rights.