Myanmar soldiers torched at least 200 homes in the country’s western Chin state over the weekend, ethnic Chin sources said Monday as the Southeast Asian nation marked nine months under military rule.
Junta troops entered Thantlang township on Friday morning, began looting the property of residents, and then set fires that burned more than 200 homes as well as some churches. Troops had set fire to the township, burning 18 homes and a hotel on Sept. 28.
Last week’s incident began when the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) militia shot and killed one of two soldiers breaking into a home in the township that was unoccupied after residents fled across the border five weeks earlier to India’s Mizoram state to escape a military offensive, said Zo Thum Hmung, executive director of the Chin Association of Maryland.
“Then, the soldiers started using firebombs on the homes and lighting fires in other parts of the town,” he said of Thantlang, which is home to around 10,000 people living in around 3,000 dwellings.
“The latest reports suggest that more than 200 homes have been burned down as of midnight. The fires are still burning now because the fire brigade is gone as well.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Sunday the “abhorrent attacks underscore the urgent need for the international community to hold the Burmese military accountable and take action to prevent gross violations and abuses of human rights, including preventing the transfer of arms to the military.”
New York-based Human Rights Watch on Sunday called the burning “a crime against humanity.”
Lwin Ko Latt, NUG’s Internal Affairs and Immigration Minister, released a statement dated Oct. 30 which claimed that around 300 homes and religious buildings had been burned down in Chin state.
Soldiers in Chin were burning down homes; firing heavy artillery; stealing property; arresting, torturing and killing civilians; and raping women in the state since Feb. 1, the minister said.
Zo Thum Hmung said two churches were among the buildings destroyed during the attack. U.K.-based aid group Save the Children released an announcement which said that one of their offices in Thantlang was destroyed in a fire on Sunday.
A resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said nine people were still living in Thantlang before the fires, but everyone has now fled.
“Thantlang is pretty deserted now—many homes were burned down,” the resident said. “The only people who still remain in town are the caretakers of an orphanage” known as the Mission for Orphans and Captives.
While reports from both the CDF and the Chin Human Rights Organization said that the military was behind the burnings, junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun rejected the claims during a newscast on Saturday.
“PDF troops launched an attack using three handmade grenades and started shooting light weapons,” he said. “That’s why [military troops] responded to them.”
“The PDF troops took cover in civilian buildings and fled the scene. They burned four of their own homes while retreating to prevent the troops from following them.”
Zaw Min Tun said soldiers tried to extinguish the fire but were unable to as PDF troops “were shooting at them.”
However, residents told RFA that the soldiers made no effort to extinguish the fire, which they said burned for nearly 24 hours, beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Oct. 29.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.