BANGKOK (AFP) - Myanmar villagers and anti-coup fighters have accused troops of burning hundreds of homes in the country's restive north-west, as the junta seeks to crush resistance to its rule.
Mass protests against last year's coup have been met with a brutal military crackdown, and violence has flared across Myanmar as civilians form "people's defence forces" (PDF) to oppose the junta.
A woman from Bin village in the Sagaing region, which has seen recent clashes, said troops had arrived in the early hours of Monday (Jan 31).
"They shelled artillery and fired guns before coming in," she said on Friday, adding that the sound had sent villagers fleeing.
Troops then set fire to around 200 houses, including her own, she said, requesting anonymity.
"We could not bring anything with us. We took some warm clothes only, and then we just ran away."
Troops also torched houses in nearby Inn Ma Hte village after a local pro-junta militia was attacked by anti-coup fighters who then fled, according to one of the rebels.
"When the PDF left the village, the army burnt it down," the fighter said, adding that 600 houses had been torched.
Local media also reported that hundreds of homes had been razed in the two villages, and images obtained by AFP purporting to be of Bin village showed the remains of dozens of burnt-out buildings. AFP could not independently verify the reports from the remote region.
The fires consumed properties, motorbikes and carts, said another local who was helping to coordinate aid for those displaced from Inn Ma Hte. "For them, it will be difficult to regain their livelihoods," he said, requesting anonymity.
State-run TV ran a report on Thursday accusing PDF fighters of starting the fires, and published images it claimed showed burnt-out buildings destroyed by "terrorists".
The South-east Asian country has been in chaos since a coup last February, with more than 1,500 people killed in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
In August, the junta said it was considering raising village militias to combat opposition to its rule, as it struggles to assert control over swathes of the country.
Sagaing has seen regular clashes and bloody reprisals.
In mid-December, the United States and United Nations condemned the junta over what Washington described as "credible and sickening" reports of the killing of 11 villagers, including children, in the Sagaing region.