A junta column of more than 200 soldiers and members of the military-backed Pyu Saw Htee militia groups torched and destroyed around 200 homes in three Gangaw Township villages last week, displacing thousands of residents, local sources told Myanmar Now.
The troops involved in the two-day assault in the Magway Region township—which borders Chin State—reportedly came from Kalay in Sagaing Region, and the militia members from northern Khin Yan village, a known military stronghold also in Gangaw.
Residents said they set fire to Chaung Kauk and Thazi villages, located 24 miles north of Gangaw, on March 23, before doing the same to Moe So village—two miles further north—the following day.
Nearly all of Moe So’s 150 homes were razed, according to locals. Some 20 homes out of 300 were burned in Thazi, and 29 in Chaung Kauk, which has 200 households.
“They came in from the east and west of the Myittha River and torched and destroyed Chaung Kauk and Thazi. Rice barns were destroyed,” a man from Thazi told Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity.
“They dragged one of our villagers with a rope around his neck. They also killed pigs and chickens, but did not eat them,” he said.
Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify what had happened to the villager who was reportedly captured.
“Nobody’s gone back to the village yet as we fear that the military will terrorise us again, so we just decided to pack up and leave for a safer place,” another villager from Thazi said.
Before the troops arrived in Chaung Kauk and Thazi, a member of a local social welfare group said that they set fire to some 20 shelters in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near Ye Hla village, just one mile north of Chaung Kauk. The residents had already fled their homes due to previous Myanmar army attacks in the area.
“They are now targeting civilians. They also torched the IDP camps and destroyed their blankets and supplies. They also took all the IDPs’ rice and oil,” the man, who is a member of the Hnan Khar youth group active in supporting displaced persons in the area, said.
“Now, almost all of the people from all the villages have been displaced,” he said of the area of northern Gangaw.
The population of the area is estimated to be around 3,000 people.
Due to a lack of internet access in the area caused by a junta-imposed blackout, Myanmar Now was unable to obtain photographic evidence of the attack.
Junta spokesperson Gen Zaw Min Tun said in a press conference last week that the military planned to “accelerate” their operations by arming and training military supporters, a reference to the groups locally known as Pyu Saw Htee.
At the conference, he played video “evidence” of what he said were members of the anti-junta People’s Defence Forces burning villages. The footage was criticised by netizens as featuring “bad acting.”
The military has denied perpetrating the arson, and has a history of accusing villagers of torching their own homes, as they did during scorched earth military operations in Rakhine State against the Rohingya community in 2016 and 2017.
The US recently labeled the campaign a genocide, a charge for which Myanmar has already been charged at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.