Daw Aye was cooking rice when junta troops quietly entered her village in Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region – a stronghold of armed resistance against the military since the 2021 coup – and grabbed her three sons.
She dropped everything and ran out to find that the soldiers had forced her sons to lie facedown in the dirt with their hands tied behind their back.
The soldiers then began kicking them – Aung Ko, 35, San Naing, 21, and Nay Myo Aung, 17 – as they begged for mercy.
“I cried out that my sons hadn’t done anything illegal and begged to let them go,” Daw Aye told Radio Free Asia on video camera in a first-hand account of the attack on Khin-U township’s Ah Lel Sho village on Dec. 28.
It was the start of a six-day nightmare that left several homes burned to the ground and nine civilians killed.
“My sons cried and begged but they went on kicking them with their military boots,” she said, but they ignored her.
Eventually, the soldiers led Daw Aye away with two other women from the village – Win Htay, 45, and Chaw Po, 48. The three were also tied up and made to lie facedown in the dirt.
“I was about to get up when the other two women did and I was told not to. They were taken a little distance away and then I heard two gunshots,” she said. “They were killed on the spot.”
The soldiers then inexplicably let Daw Aye go, and told her not to turn back toward the village.
Some time later, after the soldiers left, she returned to find the charred remains of her three sons’ bodies.
Over the course of the next five days, until Jan. 2, junta troops killed four other residents, all men. They were identified as Aung Myint Than, 38, Kyaw Soe Aung, 43, and Tun Min and Chit Khin, both 65.
Khin-U township, which includes Ah Lel Sho and several other villages, has been targeted by the military multiple times since the Feb. 1, 2021, coup.
Over the past two years, junta troops have killed at least 254 civilians and members of the rebel People’s Defense Force, in addition to destroying nearly 3,000 houses in 59 of the township’s villages. Around 15,000 people have been left homeless in the attacks.
One elderly woman whose house was destroyed by arson said that she was left with nothing and now must rely on the charity of others.
“I couldn’t salvage anything. Five cupboards [of kitchenware], five clay pots, three brick-walled water tanks, and all of our blankets are all gone. I couldn’t even retrieve the dirty dish towel from the kitchen. About 200 sacks of rice are gone too,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I am really crushed to have become someone waiting for food shared by donors like this.”
Another woman from the village said that when the column came, she was forced to flee with her two children. She said she left with only the clothing on her back and later discovered that all her belongings had been destroyed by fire.
“I have nothing left,” she said. “Not even pots and pans. I am shaken and I can’t even speak straight. My living situation suddenly turned completely upside down.”
Khin-U is just one of the townships in Sagaing region that has faced the brunt of the junta’s offensives.
Independent research firm ISP Myanmar said in September that at least 1,512 civilians were killed in Sagaing region alone since the coup, while Data for Myanmar, which monitors junta destruction of civilian properties, said in November that at least 27,496 homes had been destroyed by arson in the region since the takeover.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of the end of last year, more than 650,000 people in Sagaing had been displaced from their homes due to insecurity and conflict.
Calls to Sagaing region’s junta spokesman and social affairs minister Aye Hlaing went unanswered on Tuesday.
Junta Deputy Information Minister Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun previously claimed the military does not kill civilians or burn down their buildings, blaming anti-junta People’s Defense Forces.
Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Josh Lipes and Malcolm Foster.