Homeless residents of a Magwe Region village have insisted that their houses were deliberately burned down by Myanmar junta forces, despite repeated regime claims that their soldiers were not responsible for the arson attack.
On June 15, Kin Ma Village in Pauk Township, Magwe Region was burned down by junta forces after they reportedly took a large number of casualties during a firefight with civilian resistance fighters near the village.
An elderly couple died in the fire and almost the entire village of 240 houses was burned down. Around 1,000 villagers have been left homeless and are currently living in the forest or with relatives in nearby villages.
The military regime has repeatedly claimed via junta-controlled media that the fire started in the village around 2:50pm, after “PDF terrorists” – the military’s euphemism for civilian resistance forces – torched the house of U Kyaw Htay, a member of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, while retreating from the firefight.
Citing a detailed investigation into the fire, the junta has claimed that around 40 “PDF terrorists” set fire to U Kyaw Htay’s house because he did not support the local People’s Defense Force (PDF).
However, villagers told the Irrawaddy that U Kyaw Htay and his family are supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party and are actively opposing the military’s coup.
“U Kyaw Htay is a NLD supporter. His brother-in-law is a NLD leader in our village. They also led the anti-regime protests,” a villager said.
U Kyaw Htay’s house, which survived the initial fire, was subsequently burned down by junta forces on the afternoon of June 15, residents said. The villagers also said that regime soldiers raided the village from about 11.20am following the clash with the local PDF.
Around 60 junta reinforcements than arrived in the village, where they threatened and swore at the villagers. But most of the residents had already fled the village by then.
The fire in Kin Ma was started at 2pm at the house of villager U Aung Tin Win, which is located at the southern end of the village opposite the school where junta troops were deployed until the evening of June 15.
“After deploying at the school, they started torching the two nearby houses at the southern end of the village,” a local told the Irrawaddy.
Villagers said also that the houses in the eastern part of the village caught fire quickly as there was a strong wind blowing northwards.
Junta forces also burned down the remaining houses in the village and killed a cow for food.
The home of former village head U Htay Aung, an NLD member, was set on fire separately. The regime has accused U Htay Aung of being a founder and supporter of the local PDF, according to junta-run newspapers.
Regime media has also repeatedly claimed that their forces evacuated two female villagers over the age of 80 from the fire. However, the regime has said nothing about the elderly couple who died in the fire.
Following widespread news reports about the burning of Kin Ma, the British Ambassador to Myanmar, Dan Chugg, said that the “military continues to commit terrible crimes and has no regard for the people of Myanmar”.
The US embassy in Yangon also said in a statement that the horrific act is consistent with past atrocities committed by the military against people of all ethnicities and from all regions.
“The military continues to demonstrate a complete disregard for human life,” the US embassy statement said.
Both the US and UK embassy statements were attacked by the junta for relying on inaccurate information.
One female villager who lost her house and all her possessions in the fire said that “the military regime never releases the correct news. Only pro-military supporters believe the regime news reports”.
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