Junta Burning Upper Burma
A woman in her sixties, wearing a hat and a worn-out sweater, is weeping heavily as she is leaning against a wall. She sits on the ground, in the middle of fuming ashes, metal poles, pieces of the zinc roof of a house and charcoaled woods from the burned house scattered all over the place. This picture went viral and attracted empathy from many people on Facebook.
The elederly woman is crying out loud from the loss of her home from Bin village, Min Kin township, Sagaing region, where the military column torched the whole village. In late January 2022, the military’s burning campaign displaced 500 people and nearly 100 houses were lost in the fire there. All villagers had to flee from the fire inferno.
Four months after the coup in February 2021, military columns took positions in villages in the middle part of Myanmar, commonly known as “Ah-Nya-Day-Tha”. They searched every house and committed violent atrocities. At the time, People Defense Forces (PDF) started to try to fight back, but they were not strong yet.
On September 7th, 2021, Duwa Lashi La, acting president of the National Unity Government (NUG), announced that people have the right to self-defense and waged “the people’s resistance war” against the military nationwide.
Soon after this announcement, hundreds of youths protesting against the junta sought military training in territories controlled by ethnic armed forces. After the military training, they came back to their native regions to form local PDF groups and began to strike back.
There are at least one hundred PDF groups in Sagaing and Magway regions. As they became stronger, they began to assassinate more and more people associated with the military junta. In retaliation, the military junta is sending more troops to both regions in order to control the areas and attack PDF forces. But soldiers also enjoy burning villages, killing civilians, confiscating all their belongings, and are repeatedly committing such crimes for months.
“When soldiers burned our village, we were in another village about 1.5 miles away. We could see the smoke and the flames in the sky. We are still in deep shock. We couldn’t imagine that it would go that bad. It was so sudden. I cannot recognize my hometown anymore. I don’t want the same situation to happen to anyone again,” said 50-yo U Khin.
U Khin comes from Mway Htone village, Pale township, Sagaing region. A military column of about 150 men entered his village on January 31st, 2022 at 8 PM, and began burning houses, destroying 173 out of 260 homes. On this day, they also burned neighboring Pan and Min villages.
The villagers had no time to collect their belongings and just fled for their lives. U Khin and his family ran to a nearby village. Throughout his life, like everyone else in Pale township, he has been growing paddy, corn, bean, and sunflower and was living peacefully with his wife and his two teenage children.
Now is a difficult time for him to go back to his farms because of the instability in the region. He also can’t imagine how he would be able to build his house again in the midst of an economic crisis and crop prices plummeting.
“It is impossible to get back to what I had worked for so hard. Our home was built by my ancestors and to rebuild this kind of house and replace all I have lost, I would need to work hard for another 20 years,” sighed U Khin.
U Khin and his family came back to their village one week after the military burned it down. Four months later, they still live in a temporary hut made from toddy palm leaves and bamboo walls.
Ten villages in the area, including Pan, Hlay Kar, Kine Kyun and Chaung Oo, were burned in late January and all the villagers had to flee in the jungle for their safety.
Those who are still hiding in the jungles want to go back home but are still reluctant to do so because of the threat posed by the soldiers. They have to rely on foods provided by local relief organizations and individuals. Military columns are still burning villages in Pale, Ye Oo, Tant-Se, Depayin, Khin Oo, Chaung Oo, Myaung, Myin Mu, Wet Let, and Yin Mar Bin townships and invading the areas as they like.
In Sagaing region, there are 5991 villages in 34 townships, 26 of those are facing severe violent atrocities committed by the military junta. In Magway region, there are 4788 villages in 25 townships and many villages are already under fire by the military junta. On May 28th, 2021, the military junta burned three houses in Ye Hla village, which was the beginning of their campaign in Magway region. A thousand residents lived in Ye Hla village, which is located on the Kalay to Gangaw road. According to some villagers, the military was hit by a PDF attack and torched the houses in retaliation as they retreated.
A year later, villages in Myaing, Gangaw, Pauk, Yesagyo, Saw, Pakoku townships remain the main targets of the military and are still facing regular burning incidents. According to Data for Myanmar, a research organization documenting the atrocities committed by the military junta, 7503 houses in Sagaing and 2131 houses in Magway have been totally destroyed by the military junta from February 1st, 2021 to April 30th, 2022.
“The military junta is evil. No human being would do such a thing. I hate the military junta,” said a woman in Myaing township, where at least 8000 villagers had to be relocated from ten villages – Let Yet Ma Taung Pine, Padauk Kan, Nyaung Pin Thar, Myauk Se, Naga Pwut, Le Ti, Ma Gyi Kan, Kan Gyi, Oak Po and Nhan Sar Kyin.
“Life is more important than anything else so we escaped to save ourselves. We didn’t respond after they did such terrible and inhumane things. But we have no more patience with what they have done to us. I hate them so much,” emphasized the woman.
Help is urgently needed for more than 300,000 displaced villagers who were victims of house burning, atrocities and armed conflict in Sagaing and Magway regions.
“We are giving as much food and medicine to Internally displaced people as we can but it is not enough yet. The NUG ministry is helping in some areas but people-to-people aid is still the most important support system,” said an administrative department official in Gangaw township, where 680 houses were burned down in 18 villages.
On April 22th, 2022, the Gangaw People’s Administration announced that the NUG provided them with over 900 million MMK to help internally displaced people from the fighting in the area.
However, the aid from the national government and local organizations hasn’t reached everyone yet.
“Now, we need medicines, food, and rain coats as the rainy season is arriving. We are poor and have nothing,” said a local villager from Nhan Sar village in Myaing township.
People hiding in the jungles are short of food and drinking water. They need access to health care and medicines urgently because of poor sanitation in those areas. Due to the severe rainy season, dengue fever and diarrhea cases are rising.
“The NUG should urgently coordinate with the village administrative committees, Local PDF (LPDF), township and district level administrative officials to help people who are fleeing from the fighting in upper Burma,” said a Pakoku People Strike Committee member.
On May 6th, 2022, the United Nations OCHA Myanmar released a statement saying that 50 500 people in Magway region and 240 600 people in Sagaing region have been displaced from the fighting between Burmese military and local PDFs, including a number of infants and people over 80 years old.
Before burning a village, military troops accuse the people to “cooperate with PDF” and claim that “PDF live in this village”, particularly when they were severely defeated in the area. Following the tactic – “If you cannot beat the mice, burn the barn” – the junta harass civilians because it can’t defeat the PDF.
A female member of Monywa People Strike Committee added: “The main goal of the military junta is to put fear into people. They burn houses and kill people to make people afraid and force them to remain silent. That’s their tactic. They have no human mind. They don’t know the value of a home as they don’t have one. So, they torch it casually.”
Despite the military junta’s violent campaign against civilians, people are not afraid and continue to revolt against the military. They have made a collective decision to root out the military dictatorship, said the woman from Monywa People Strike Committee: “They are sad because they lost their homes and businesses. But their spirit is still strong. They are not scared despite the challenges they are facing. Their losses give them the strength to resist. They are in pain, but they don’t give up in fighting back the violent military junta”.
Soldiers are facing a crisis because they know nothing, according to Bo Hmain Tayza, a PDF member in Yesagyo township: “They have no controlled areas and no public support. They have no military intelligence to gather on the ground information to prepare their operations. They have no ability for military operations so they can’t fight. As they lose the public’s support to be able to win the war, they are childishly horrifying civilians and forcing them to silence. That’s why they burn homes and villages.”
During April and May, the hottest months of the dry season, people in the Magwe and Sagaing plains suffer from extreme heat. Under a normal political situation, elderly people and kids seek shelter and get medical assistance. This year, the hot weather didn’t deter the military junta from burning more than a hundred villages in upper Burma. For local people, the heat inside their hearts is hotter than the heat outside their body.
“From a geographical perspective, upper Burma is a dry hot zone. Upper Burma is under constant hot temperature and scorching sun. Nowadays, local residents are suffering from the natural heat as well as man-made heat. To cool down the heat, what the people are expecting is to just root out the military dictatorship” said Ko Chit Win Maung from Magway People’s Strike Committee.
He added that people’s suffering and violent destruction by the junta should be documented so they face justice for the crimes they committed: “The military has long been using violent crimes against the people. We need to collect evidence and we finally need justice when the time comes”
The beautiful green toddy palm trees and paddy farms, which are symbolic of Upper Burma’s landscapes, have been put on fire by the military junta. The people in Magway and Sagaing are now living in hell, while fiercely struggling to liberate their villages from the smell of fumes due to the fighting and from the smoke due to the burning campaign.