Yaw Region, once a haven of peace and tranquility, is now a war zone with civilian resistance fighters battling Myanmar’s military regime.
Local people in Yaw – which comprises Gangaw, Hteelin, Saw and Kyukhtu townships in Magwe Region and which is located between the Pongtaung-Ponnya mountain range on the western banks of the Chindwin River and the Chin Hills – are rebelling against military rule with whatever weapons they have.
Most of the villages in Yaw support the National League for Democracy Party, whose government was ousted by the Myanmar military in a February 1 coup. But the area is also home to military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party strongholds, where Pyu Saw Htee groups – militia trained and armed by the junta – are active.
Civilian resistance fighters in Yaw have only traditional hunting rifles to battle junta forces, who significantly outnumber them. As a result, the number of civilian deaths, displaced people and homes destroyed in junta raids is increasing.
The memory of what happened on September 9 in Myin Thar, a large village in Yaw with a population of 3,800 people, will haunt the villagers for the rest of their life. It was a tragic and painful sight for people resisting the military regime.
On the morning of September 9, Myin Thar was thrown into chaos after locals heard that junta troops were torching nearby Thar Lin Village, located to the west of Myin Thar on the opposite bank of the Myitthar River.
Then, junta troops and armed men in sports shorts came across the bridge that links Thar Lin and Myin Thar villages. A firefight erupted at 10am between civilian resistance fighters and the regime forces. The resistance fighters were forced to withdraw after the junta troops used heavy weapons.
A total of 18 people, including teenage boys and senior citizens, died in Myin Thar on September 9, and some 20 houses were burned down by the junta forces.
“We formed a defense group out of fear that our village might be raided and torched. We defended for around 45 minutes with traditional hunting rifles after they opened fire on us. We are upset,” said one villager.
Regime spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said junta troops went to Myin Thar in response to a tip that a local People’s Defense Force (PDF) was active there. The junta spokesperson claimed that the regime forces were attacked by some 50 men near the village.
One soldier died and the military seized 23 rifles and eight homemade grenade launchers, added Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun. But he did not mention the deaths of the 18 villagers.
Locals said that the armed men in civilian clothes who fought alongside the junta troops are Pyu Saw Htee members. Some villagers were killed after the junta forces entered the village. And since September 9, the village is enveloped in silence and grief and the residents live in fear of another attack.
Piles of corpses were found. Almost all of them had been shot in the head, suggesting that the victims, many already wounded, were executed.
“Most of them were shot in the head. Their heads were broken and their brains spilled out like a ripe papaya that has fallen from a tree,” said one resident.
U Tun Ngwe, 86, was found dead with signs that he had been tied up and beaten to death. A 50-year-old paralyzed man barely able to walk had been shot dead in a chair in his house. It appears that every male that the junta forces encountered was shot dead.
Some villagers fled to the forest or the village monastery. Around 20 junta soldiers and armed men came to the monastery and threatened to shoot those in hiding if they did not come out. Residents including elderly persons, women, mothers and children were forced to kneel down for more than an hour and interrogated.
“Your children and brothers must have been among those killed in the fighting. Go and collect their bodies at the bridge. There are at least ten of them. Go and collect their bodies after we leave,” the junta soldiers reportedly told the villagers.
Junta troops burned and looted houses, said witnesses. The following morning, they torched more houses before they left. Then, the residents returned to their homes and collected bodies. The youngest victim was barely 16.
“Some of the victims were the only sons in their families and their parents broke down. Since that day, everyone in the village, whether young or old, is in tears,” said a resident.
Junta forces have also raided some 15 villages in Gangaw Township, killing more than 20 locals and displacing thousands of villagers. They have raided Hnan Kha Village in Gangaw four times, destroying some 50 houses.
In response to junta attacks, the combined forces of the Gangaw PDF and the Chin Defense Force-Hakha have ambushed military convoys on the Gangaw-Kale Road with mines.
People everywhere in Yaw were very upset when they saw the pictures of the young victims from Myin Thar Village, alongside the rudimentary rifles they had used to defend themselves from the regime troops.
“They [junta forces] are too inhumane. I can’t bear hearing their voices,” said one female Yaw resident. “I don’t want to experience this anymore. I wish other people also did not have to face this. I believe we will win the fight. We are not afraid of the junta forces, but we feel disgusted by them,” she added.
Many Myin Thar villagers are too upset to return to their village and are staying elsewhere.
The victims who died on September 9 were cremated near the bridge at the entrance of the village. Residents plan to plant a garden in their memory in the future.
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