Thousands of homes have been torched in Myanmar as the military junta burns down entire villages, according to basic information. The arson attacks appear to be concentrated in the opposition stronghold of the central region of Magway and the northwestern region of Sagaing.
As the civil war escalates, a Burmese couple living in Japan gather evidence to figure out what’s going on in their home country.
Win Kyaw and Mathida receive videos and reports from locals. They say it seems the junta is stepping up attacks on the resistance in the two central regions.
“Since April 29, the army has been using heavy artillery to incinerate,” said a villager, who said properties were being burned down indiscriminately.
A man who provided an update from Gangaw town in the Magway region said: “Eighteen villages were attacked and 680 houses were burnt down in this area.”
“We also found the bodies of many young people. A total of 57. Some died in combat and some were killed after being taken away. Some had their hands tied behind their backs,” the man said.
Photos of bodies on the ground were sent to Mathida and Win Kyaw’s phone.
Most of the people in the Magway and Sagaing area are Bamar Buddhists, which is the majority ethnic group in the country. Now the monks are fighting against the military.
“People have the right to defend themselves,” said a monk. “The army represses and kills unjustly. That is why, although a monk, I support the resistance.”
Satellite imagery confirms arson reports
Members of the non-profit research groups Myanmar Witness and Data for Myanmar cross-referenced arson reports with images from a NASA satellite.
They were able to verify the destruction of buildings and villages, noting that the worst affected areas are concentrated in the Magway and Sagaing regions.
Each red square (■) indicates the location of a fire. Research groups say the army carried out scorched earth attacks in the Magway and Sagaing areas in April. Watch the clip 0:13
The two groups spotted 33 fires in the two regions in April.
Data from Myanmar members estimates that nearly 16,900 homes have been burned down in localities since the start of the 2021 coup until April this year.
A soldier who defected explained the brutal strategy to NHK.
“When the army enters the villages, it forces the inhabitants to cooperate. If they disobey, the whole village will be set on fire.”
Children ask to fight
Win Kyaw and Mathida made contact with a former teacher who joined the armed resistance in Sagaing.
He was teaching children in outdoor classrooms after last year’s coup. But he couldn’t continue when the village was burned down in April.
“A student asked if children could also join the resistance,” he said. “It worries me when kids mimic fighter training routines. They plan to fight.”
In May, the UN refugee agency estimated that more than 291,000 people had been internally displaced in the two regions
“Simple and brutal” strategy
Bangkok-based security analyst Anthony Davis said the tactics employed by the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, were “simple and brutal”.
He says it is significant that the scale of the attack is such that ethnic minorities as well as his own Bamar people are targets.
“It’s a powerful message: if you support the PDFs (People’s Defense Forces), we will destroy your community,” Davis said. “The next six months to a year are going to be very, very critical inside Myanmar.”
Ask for help
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s shadow government, the National Unity Government (NUG), made up of lawmakers ousted in the military coup, is trying to help.
NUG Minister for Humanitarian Affairs Win Myat Aye said they were doing their best to help those affected by the military scorched earth operation by contacting the UN and other organisations.
“It is not possible to provide humanitarian aid in the traditional way at a time when the junta holds power by force,” he notes.
From Japan, Win Kyaw and Mathida continue to share their findings with the UN. But they feel that monitoring the situation is beyond their abilities.
“We cannot investigate all the atrocities committed by the army,” says Win Kyaw. “We try to do our best. But the scariest thing is if the world thinks that Myanmar is peaceful, that things have returned to normal under military rule.”
Watch the video 11:18, broadcast on April 24, 2022.