At least 35 people were burned alive in Myanmar on Christmas Eve, the latest in a series of attacks on civilians by the country’s military.
The victims’ bodies were discovered on Christmas Day near the Mo So village of Hpruso town in eastern Kayah State, an ethnic Karenni region, according to The Associated Press. Those killed included women, children and elders, according to The Christian Post.
Two staff members of Save the Children were among those killed, the organization confirmed on Dec. 28. The two men were both new fathers working on education for children, the humanitarian organization said in a statement.
Earlier in December, the Myanmar military stormed the village of Done Taw, burning 10 people including five teenagers. A young farmhand told The Associated Press he discovered the bodies when he returned to his village and said some of the corpses’ limbs were tied. One victim was lying face down holding his head up, suggesting he was burned alive.
The December incidents further show the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, is reverting to a strategy of massacres and scorched-earth tactics as leaders seek to squelch any opposition, according to an AP investigation based on interviews with 40 witnesses, social media, satellite imagery and data on deaths.
Since the military seized power in February, it has cracked down ever more brutally, abducting young men and boys, killing health care workers and torturing prisoners, according to the AP.
Churches, homes burned
Thantlang, a town in the country’s northwest near the Indian border, has been emptied of its people after four months of heavy fighting, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization. Drone footage shot by the group in October and December and seen by the AP shows fires raging inside buildings and charred churches, collapsed schools and ruined homes. The footage matches fires detected by satellites and interviews with villagers.
Following the military coup, Thantlang, whose residents are mostly Christians, had emerged as an unlikely stronghold for the resistance as Myanmar spiraled toward civil war, according to The Washington Post. But in August, the military warned town elders that the Thantlang would be “burned down to ash” if residents did not cooperate, a pastor of one of the local churches told reporters.
An attack in September forced almost all of the Thantlang’s people from their homes, many of which were then burned in a military bombardment. In a Dec. 30 tweet, the Chin Human Rights Organization said an Assembly of God Church and a Thantlang Association of Baptist churches building were among 50 structures burned by military troops that day. The fires were started from four different blocks and lasted nearly nine hours, the tweet said.
Myanmar is No. 18 on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
A Washington Post analysis of more than 300 videos and photos, as well as satellite imagery, eyewitness accounts and military planning documents, reveals a premeditated campaign of arson and killing targeting civilians in Chin state beginning in September and continuing through October, the paper reported. Around 2 million square feet, roughly 30% of the town, have been burned, including almost all of the local shops and businesses, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization.
The military has long used such practices against ethnic minorities such as the Muslim Rohingya, thousands of whom were killed in 2017. But this time, the military is also using the same methods against people and villages of its own Buddhist Bamar ethnic majority. The focus of most of the latest killings has been in the northwest, including in a Bamar heartland where support for the opposition is strong.
More than 80 people have died in killings of three or more in the Sagaing region alone, including those in Done Taw, since August, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, or AAPP, a group that monitors verified arrests and deaths in Myanmar.
Three days after the Done Taw attack, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper dismissed reports of the slayings as “fake news,” accusing unidentified countries of “wishing to disintegrate Myanmar” by inciting bloodshed.
But the numbers tell a different story. Since the military seized power in February, more than 1,375 people have been killed by soldiers and police, and more than 11,200 arrested, according to the AAPP.
Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn said Myanmar has “all the ingredients for civil war,” according to a report by the Taipei Times. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plans to visit Myanmar Jan 7–8 for the purpose of “improving the situation in Myanmar.”