BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar government troops rounded up villagers, some believed to be women and children, fatally shot more than 30 and set the bodies on fire, a witness and other reports said Saturday.
Photos of what appeared to be the aftermath of Christmas Eve’s massacre at eastern Mo So village just outside Hpruso Township in Kayah state, where refugees were fleeing an army attack, went viral on social media. This angered the military government that came to power in February.
These accounts were not independently verified. These photos show the burned bodies of more than 30 individuals in three vehicles.
A villager who said he went to the scene told The Associated Press that the victims had fled the fighting between armed resistance groups and Myanmar’s army near Koi Ngan village, which is just beside Mo So, on Friday. According to him, they died after being taken into custody by soldiers while they headed for refugee camps in western parts of the township.
The government has not commented on the allegations, but a report in the state-run Myanma Alinn daily newspaper on Saturday said that the fighting near Mo So broke out on Friday when members of ethnic guerrilla forces, known as the Karenni National Progressive Party, and those opposed to the military drove in “suspicious” vehicles and attacked security forces after refusing to stop.
A newspaper reported that they contained new recruits who were attending army training and that seven of their vehicles were set on fire. There were no other details.
The witness who spoke to the AP said the remains were burned beyond recognition, and children’s and women’s clothes were found together with medical supplies and food.
“The bodies were tied with ropes before being set on fire,” said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.
Although he didn’t see them being killed at the time, he said that a few of them were Mo So villager who were reportedly arrested Friday by soldiers. He claimed that they were not local organized militia members.
Myanmar’s independent media reported on Friday that 10 Mo So villagers including children were arrested by the army and four members of the local paramilitary Border Guard Forces who went to negotiate for their release were reportedly tied up and shot in the head by the military.
Witnesses claimed that the bodies had been left by anti-government militia and village groups as troops approached Mo So. The bodies were then being cremated. It was still a battle for the village.
“It’s a heinous crime and the worst incident during Christmas. We strongly condemn that massacre as a crime against humanity,” said Banyar Khun Aung, director of the Karenni Human Rights Group.
An earlier in the month, troops from government were also accused by tying up and murdering villagers. The opposition leader Dr. Sasa said that civilians were killed by burning alive.
A video of the aftermath of the Dec. 7 assault — apparently retaliation for an attack on a military convoy — showed the charred bodies of 11 people lying in a circle amid what appeared to be the remains of a hut.
Fighting resumed on Saturday in a neighbouring state near Thailand’s border, where hundreds of refugees fled for safety. Local officials said Myanmar’s military unleashed airstrikes and heavy artillery on Lay Kay Kaw, a small town controlled by ethnic Karen guerrillas, since Friday.
The military’s action prompted multiple Western governments including the U.S. Embassy to issue a joint statement condemning “serious human rights violations committed by the military regime across the country.”
“We call on the regime to immediately cease its indiscriminate attacks in Karen state and throughout the country, and to ensure the safety of all civilians in line with international law,” the joint statement said.