Junta security forces have killed at least 155 civilians and arrested 683 others in Myanmar’s Magway region — the heartland of the majority Bamar people — since the military seized power 15 months ago, according to reporting by RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Local sources said that troops had destroyed more than 2,100 houses by arson in Magway over the same period — making it second only to Sagaing in regions hit hardest by the attacks since the Feb. 1, 2021, coup. In the first week of April alone, at least 20 villages were razed in Magway’s Pauk township, where the armed opposition has gained a foothold in recent months.

Sources told RFA that nearly all the incidents occurred in the Magway townships of Magway, Pakokku, Seik Phyu, Gangaw, Saetottara and Myaing — all pockets of strong resistance to military rule.

Much of the reporting on abuses by junta troops to date has focused on Myanmar’s remote border regions, where armed ethnic groups seeking independence have battled the country’s military for decades and established a patchwork of self-administered territories. The new statistics from Magway, where the population is more than 95% Bamar, suggest that not even members of the Myanmar’s majority ethnic group in the country’s central region are immune to attacks by the military.

Daw Aye, a 56-year-old woman from a village in southern Pauk township, told RFA that her home was destroyed in two fires set by the military and pro-junta Pyu Saw Htee militiamen on April 10 and 24.

“My house was a decent building with a separate stable for the animals ... and now it’s all gone,” she said, adding that her destroyed property was valued at around 20 million kyats (U.S. $10,800).

“I don’t know if I’ll ever live in that kind of house again. We have no place to live even if we could go back to the village. We no longer sleep peacefully at night. We cannot eat our meals in peace. We must always be alert.”

Residents of Gangaw township’s Taungbet village said troops and Pyu Saw Htee fighters set two fires that destroyed 36 houses there after accusing them of providing haven to anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitaries, which the military regime has labeled a terrorist group. More than 800 people were forced to flee the village in the attacks, they said, adding that at least 695 houses in 17 Gangaw villages have been destroyed by arson since the coup.

Lay Lay Win, a resident of Pauk’s Htan Pauk Kone village, told RFA that her husband Than Tun Oo was arrested on Feb. 21 while he worked on the tract’s water tower by a 30-man column of junta troops from the military’s Pakokku-based 101st Brigade, who brutally murdered him the same day.

“My husband was said to be tortured and stabbed. He was hit in the face with rifle butts and was vomiting blood before he died,” she said. “We only learned of his fate when some of the young men who were arrested that day and later released told us what had happened.”

Lay Lay Win, who has two young children and is pregnant with her third child, said that Than Tun Oo was targeted after informants told the military he was assisting the local PDF. She said the military did not inform her of her husband’s death or return his body to their family.

Gangaw township, which borders Myanmar’s restive Chin state, was one of the first centers of armed opposition to junta rule. Fighting between the local PDF and the military has been frequent there since early 2022, as it has been in the nearby townships of Saw and Htee Lin. Residents of the area told RFA that every time the two sides clash, the military raids nearby villages, targeting them with arson attacks and even air strikes.

Refugees on the rise

Meanwhile, the number of refugees forced to flee their homes amid the fighting in Magway has risen in recent months, according to residents.

In Htee Lin township alone, some 1,400 people have been displaced since the coup. Kyaw Aye, a resident of the township’s Kyin village, told RFA he and his family had to flee their home four times on April 17, the day of the Burmese New Year, due to repeated air strikes.

“On New Year’s Day, we heard gunshots near the village. Our whole family huddled together at home because we were scared and we had to flee in the evening as a plane flew over the village and fired randomly,” he said.

“We’ve been on the run again and again — once four times in one day [on New Year’s Day],” he said. “We’re now taking refuge in a nearby village after spending two nights in the jungle.”

Kyaw Aye said he was among 70 people, including children and the elderly, who fled his village during the most recent military attack and were forced to find shelter in the jungle.

When asked about the arrests and killings in Magway, junta deputy minister of information, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, attributed them to PDF groups moving between the region and Chin state.

“In the northern part of Magway region, there have been some fake reports that the army was burning villages. But when we captured some PDF members, they said that the army didn’t do it,” he said.

“We captured a nurse and a health worker, and their statements were already released to newsmen. This group is making up stories about what is really happening.”

History of resistance

Despite the army raids, Boh Cross, the leader of the Myaing Township PDF, told RFA that the armed opposition is gaining significant territory in northern Magway.

“The situation is much better than before,” he said, adding that there are now eight PDF units in Myaing township alone, with a strength of more than 10,000 fighters.

“Our organizations … are all working together.”

Pauk Kyaing, a resident of Pauk township, told RFA that Magway region has long been a stronghold of anti-authoritarian and pro-democracy movements in Myanmar.

“Magway region was not only active in the pro-democracy movement in the past but is also the birthplace of [Myanmar independence leader] Gen. Aung San,” he said.

“We have also been oppressed by the military in the past. We had to work as forced laborers in government projects. There were massacres of villagers in Gangaw and Yaw townships. We suffered under military rule, so we have the determination to fight back in the name of independence and justice for the sake of our future generations.”

Junta security forces have killed at least 1,833 civilians and arrested nearly 10,600 others since last year’s coup, according to Thailand-based NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners — mostly during peaceful protests of military rule.

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