Myanmar villagers accuse junta troops of burning spree

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said "efforts were made to minimise the casualties as much as possible". PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Myanmar junta troops have torched hundreds of buildings during a three-day raid in the country's north, as the military struggles to crush resistance to its rule.

The Sagaing region has seen fierce fighting and bloody reprisals since the coup last year, with local People's Defence Force (PDF) members clashing regularly with junta troops.

Analysts say the informal militia has surprised junta forces with its effectiveness, and the military has on numerous occasions called in air strikes to support its troops on the ground.

Troops torched hundreds of buildings in the villages of Kinn, Upper Kinn and Ke Taung over three days last week, locals and media reports said.

On May 26, villagers in Kinn fled as soldiers approached and began shooting into the air, said one resident who requested anonymity.

"The next morning, we saw smoke rising from our village before they left. Over 200 houses were burned down… My house was totally burned down. Only the concrete foundation is left," the villager said.

Drone footage purporting to show the aftermath obtained by Agence France-Presse showed columns of smoke rising into the sky from the villages, set along a roughly 8km stretch of the Chindwin river.

A health clinic seen in the video matched the geolocation of one in Ke Taung village.

AFP digital verification reporters confirmed the footage had not appeared online before last week but could not independently verify reports from the region.

Soldiers "raided and destroyed our houses", said Ke Taung villager Aye Tin, who requested to use a pseudonym. "And they also burned motor boats that we use for transport and for carrying food for our village, including my boat. My life is ruined, as I have lost my home, and I have nothing left to do for a living."

Satellite images from US space agency Nasa showed fires in locations that matched Ke Taung and Kinn villages last week.

The junta has previously rebuffed claims its troops have torched houses, accusing "terrorist" PDF fighters of starting the fires.

In a speech last week, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said "efforts were made to minimise the casualties as much as possible in performing the counterattacks to terror acts".

"Now, the country is in tranquillity," he said.

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