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Myanmar army accused of killing over a dozen villagers, beheading children

Soldiers in Myanmar rampaged through several villages, raping, beheading and killing at least 17 people, according to an Associated Press report on Tuesday, in the latest of what critics of the ruling military say are a series of war crimes since the army seized power two years ago.

The bodies of 17 people were recovered last week in the villages of Nyaung Yin and Tar Taing — also called Tatai — in Sagaing region in central Myanmar, according to members of the anti-government resistance and a resident who lost his wife.

They said the victims had been detained by the military and in some cases appeared to have been tortured before being killed.

The soldiers involved in last week’s attacks were reportedly part of a group of more than 90 who were brought to the area by five helicopters on February 23, according to community leaders of the anti-coup “People’s Defence Forces” group and Myanmar local media.

They said the bodies of 14 people, including three women, were found on Thursday on a small island in a river in Nyaung Yin.

Three more male victims were found in Tar Taing, including two members of the resistance. One of the two was dismembered, with his head cut off, they said.

The neighbouring villages are about 45 kilometres west of the major city of Mandalay.

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Killing minors

Tar Taing resident Moe Kyaw, 42, survived the attack but said his 39-year-old wife, Pan Thwal, and 18-year-old nephew were among those killed.

Contacted by phone, he said on Friday they were among 70 villagers detained in the middle of the night last Wednesday by soldiers who shot into the air as they herded their captives from their homes to the local Buddhist monastery.

He said his wife and two other women were beaten, raped and shot dead on Thursday by the soldiers, who also took his spouse’s earrings, His two sons, 9 and 11 years old, were released when the soldiers departed, he said.

In an earlier incident apparently involving the same army unit, two boys aged 12 and 13 assisting the People’s Defence Forces group were captured by government troops on February 26 and beheaded after being forced to show the locations of their camps, according to Myanmar local media.

Photos said to be of their bodies, found at Kan Daw village, about 12 kilometres northwest of Tar Taing, were circulated on social media.

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‘Scorched earth policy’

The military government has not responded to the allegations. In the past, it has denied documented abuses and said that casualties occurred in the course of fighting against armed anti-government fighters. 

Online media supportive of the military government have made the same claim about the recent incidents in Sagaing or suggested that they were the result of factional fighting within the resistance.

Myanmar’s military has long been accused of serious human rights violations, most notably in the western state of Rakhine. 

International courts are considering whether it committed genocide there in a brutal 2017 counterinsurgency campaign that caused more than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh for safety.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk accused the ruling generals of carrying out “a scorched earth policy in an attempt to stamp out opposition.”

His agency said credible sources have verified the deaths of at least 2,940 civilians and 17,572 arrests by the military and its allies since the 2021 takeover.

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