Junta troops occupying a village in Sagaing’s Yinmabin Township have held at least 50 internally displaced persons (IDPs) hostage since the weekend, locals said on Thursday.
The victims, captured on Saturday, reportedly include children, elderly people, and at least two individuals with disabilities who had been sheltering in farm huts, a monastery and a school in Bant Bway village—also known as Ywar Ma—due to military raids on the area.
“We are very worried about what condition the hostages are in,” a Yinmabin local told Myanmar Now. “Several IDPs were already massacred in Mone Taing Pin in Ye-U Township not too long ago. We’re worried that those in Bant Bway might face the same fate,” he added referring to the murder of nearly 30 men detained by the military in another Sagaing Region village in May.
Myanmar Now has yet to confirm the exact number of villagers being held in Bant Bway at the time of reporting.
After some 30 junta police and military-backed Pyu Saw Htee militia members began occupying Bant Bway in March, most of the village’s 1,000 residents fled the community, located some 10 miles north of Yinmabin town on the Monywa-Kalaywa road.
“They have been raiding and torching nearby villages since they set up their station here,” another Yinmabin local said. “The last raid was about two weeks ago. They only stopped after they were attacked with explosives when they left the village last time.”
The presence of the hostages has reportedly made it difficult for anti-junta defence forces to attack the occupying troops. However, a spokesperson for the Motherland Revolutionary Force said that a coalition that included his guerrilla group used explosives to intercept a military truck sending supplies to personnel in Bant Bway on Wednesday morning.
“We attacked them with explosive devices and they started firing into the surrounding area even though we hadn’t started shooting back. They were using submachine guns and G3 rifles,” he told Myanmar Now.
A 50-year-old woman in the area at the time of the clash was killed by the military’s gunfire, he said.
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The guerrilla fighters proceeded to ambush the vehicle again at the entrance to Bant Bway, estimating that at least five junta soldiers were injured. A member of the third battalion of the Yinmabin People’s Defence Force was also killed by the military’s artillery fire.
Much of the area along the Monywa-Kalaywa road is reportedly under the control of anti-junta resistance forces, but villagers have said that they have been avoiding passing through Bant Bway in recent months due to extortion taking place at a military checkpoint located at the village’s entrance.
The military council has not released any information on the alleged incidents in Bant Bway.
The junta has previously taken hostages in Yinmabin Township, including children. Around 200 people, including some 80 children under the age of 12, were detained by the military in February in the village of Chinpone, 20 miles west of Bant Bway. After the soldiers had left, nine of the adult hostages were found tortured and killed.
A junta-controlled propaganda newspaper reported that the army had apprehended “terrorists” in Chinpone as part of military “inspections” to increase “security and the rule of law” in Yinmabin. It did not mention the abduction of locals, including children.
Among those held hostage for days in Yinmabin Township by occupying Myanmar army soldiers were children under the age of five, taken from a village pre-school
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According to the Mone Hla defence team leader, the column responsible for the raid on the village consisted of around 80 regime soldiers based in Kar Boe, a village in Kanbalu Township.
It was the same column that raided and torched the predominantly Muslim villages of Kyi Su and Kyauk Taing the day before, he added.
He also claimed that his defence team inflicted heavy casualties on the regime forces as they left the neighbouring village of Pin Sein Khin in Ye-U Township before reaching Mone Hla.
“We attacked them with explosives and killed seven of them. We also opened fire on them when they tried to recover the bodies, killing 15 more,” he said.
Forced to pull back to Pin Sein Khin, the junta troops opened fire with heavy artillery, killing a 40-year-old woman named Mya who was trying to flee the conflict, he added.
After reaching Mone Hla in the evening, the regime forces burned down roughly a third of the village, according to a resident who returned over the weekend.
“The village is now in complete ruins. They even destroyed the high school,” he said.
Mone Hla was also targeted by airstrikes in July, when three helicopters fired artillery shells at the 700-household village, reportedly hitting a local church and other religious buildings.
The village is the birthplace of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Catholic Archbishop of Yangon, who in May of last year appealed to the military to refrain from targeting religious sites after four people were killed by artillery fire while sheltering inside a Catholic church near the Karenni (Kayah) capital Loikaw.
Despite continuing attacks, however, he appeared in public with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing during last year’s Christmas holidays, provoking a strong outcry from critics.
The cardinal, who was elected by Pope Francis in 2015, has met with the junta chief twice since the military seized power in February 2021.
The boy was shot as he fled approaching junta soldiers and a member of a local defence team was beheaded after being caught scouting the area
His arrest came amid reports that people in Magway Region had been tortured into confessing he was a member of the PDF