Soldiers from Myanmar’s military government raided a village in the country’s central region, killing 19 villagers including four children and burning their bodies, independent media and a resident said Friday.
The killings on Wednesday in Nyaung Pin Thar village in Bago region’s Htantabin township may have been in retaliation for an attack by resistance forces opposed to army rule.
Radio Free Asia, a U.S.- funded news service, quoted a member of the locally formed People’s Defense Force as saying the killings occurred after fighting the same day between the army and his group and its allies from the Karen National Liberation Army, an ethnic rebel group that operates in the area. He said the resistance forces killed 20 soldiers and captured three officers.
A farmer from the village told The Associated Press that he lost his wife, 7-year-old daughter and nine other relatives in the raid by about 10 soldiers.
The farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared arrest, said he had been working in the fields and did not return on Wednesday after he was informed soldiers had entered the village, so he did not witness the killings.
When he returned the next day, his family members were gone and he found bodies, charred beyond recognition, in two spots in the small village.
“They kill people as easily as killing a chicken or bird. At least they should have released the children, who don’t understand anything, on humanitarian grounds,” the farmer said.
He said 19 people had been killed, and it appeared they had been shot in the head before their bodies were burned using gasoline and diesel fuel taken from a store in the village. He said the soldiers also took beer and alcoholic drinks which they consumed.
Reports of the killings, along with what were said to be photos and videos of the remains of the victims, also appeared in independent Myanmar media and social media on Friday, the same day a human rights monitoring group released a report charging that Myanmar’s military is deliberately carrying out atrocities, including beheadings, to instill terror in those fighting the army and in a public already dismayed by the military’s barbarity.
The rights group, Myanmar Witness, singled out an army unit nicknamed the Ogre Column for its brutality in the central region of Sagaing, which is considered part of Myanmar’s traditional heartland.
Sagaing is a stronghold of armed resistance to the ruling military, which seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s takeover triggered mass nonviolent protests which were suppressed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance around the country.
Myanmar Witness said its investigation of eight incidents between late February and early April found that at least 33 villagers were killed, 12 of whom were beheaded and two dismembered by the Ogre Column and other units.
Most of the beheaded victims were left on grotesque display.
“In a number of these cases the individuals were killed and then beheaded. As the beheadings serve no functional purpose, they represent a dramatic and horrific warning to those resisting military rule,” the report said.
It said the Ogre Column is part of the army’s 99th Light Infantry Division.
A leader of the local defense force who cremated the bodies of two beheaded boys killed by the Ogre Column in April told The Associated Press then that it “is harsher in killing than other groups of soldiers.”
The report says the 99th Light Infantry Division, based in Sagaing’s neighboring Mandalay region, and the No. 8 Military Training School in Sagaing’s Shwebo township have been repeatedly blamed by villagers for most of the killings.
Myanmar Witness said the 99th Light Infantry Division has a history of violence, with allegations of involvement in a brutal 2017 counterinsurgency campaign in the western state of Rakhine that prompted more than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee to neighboring Bangladesh for safety.
Myanmar Witness said its findings are based on investigations of images and videos of the aftermath of the incidents and reports in pro-military and independent media.