Myanmar’s junta and villagers traded accusations Wednesday after a settlement was razed almost entirely to the ground in the centre of the coup-wracked country.
Villagers of Kin Ma in central Magway region said junta forces were to blame for its near-destruction, while the military said ‘terrorists’ and windy weather were responsible.
Mass protests against the February 1 coup have been met with a brutal military crackdown and violence has flared in several communities across Myanmar as civilians form ‘self-defence’ forces to oppose the junta.
Junta troops came to the village on Tuesday hunting for members of a local self-defence force, one resident said.
‘As people ran, they (the military) shot the village with a rocket launcher. And then we saw the fire coming out from the village,’ he said.
‘We thought they wouldn’t destroy anything so we ran without taking any properties and left everything at home.’
‘There were 250 houses in the village, now there are only about 20 left,’ another villager said, adding an elderly couple who were unable to flee had been killed in the fire.
‘My house was also burned down to ashes... only the tin pole is left,’ he said.
Images published by local media showed plumes of smoke rising into the sky and the charred remains of buildings.
Local media also said an elderly couple had died in the fire.
According to junta authorities, the blaze started after ‘40 armed terrorists’ torched the house of a local member of a pro-military party.
‘Because of wind, the fire spread to nearby houses and about 70 per cent of the village was burnt,’ the junta’s media team said in a statement.
Meanwhile, protesters shot during rallies against Myanmar’s military regime are avoiding treatment for their wounds, fearing arrest if they visit junta-run hospitals and searching desperately for sympathetic doctors to operate on them in secret.
Security forces have fired on civilian protests with sniper rifles, machine guns and mortar rounds in the months since the February coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
More than 800 people have been killed and thousands of others wounded in a running crackdown on opposition to the military regime, according to rights groups.
Maung Win Myo — his name and others have been changed for safety reasons — used to scratch a meagre living as a trishaw driver, ferrying people around the bustling commercial capital of Yangon.
But the 24-year-old hasn’t worked since March, when he was shot in the leg while on the frontlines of an anti-junta protest.
‘I can’t even sleep properly at night,’ he said, wincing on a mattress on the floor of the one-room apartment he shares with his wife and two children.
It would cost about $950 to pay for a second operation at a private hospital to set the steel in his broken bone, he said, but he will have to keep on suffering for now.
‘I don’t have any money as I cannot work,’ he said, adding that he was relying on donations from neighbours to feed his family.
One costly visit to a private clinic has already left Maung Win Myo out of pocket.
‘We didn’t dare to go to military hospital, that’s why we went to a private hospital, even though we don’t have money,’ his wife said.
Many others with serious injuries are scared to seek free treatment at military hospitals, for fear their wounds will betray their involvement in anti-coup protests.
‘Not everyone is willing to go,’ Marjan Besuijen, Head of Mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Myanmar, said.
‘They fear arrest.’
In a report last month, MSF also said its partners in Myanmar had witnessed junta raids on organisations ‘providing first aid to injured protesters, and seen their supplies destroyed.’
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