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Civilian Massacres in Myanmar Appall United Nations; Calls for an Investigation Rise

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Published: January 17, 2022
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Police march with a resident arrested during a crackdown on protesters holding rallies against the military coup in Yangon on Feb. 26, 2021. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

At the end of 2021, around 35 civilians in Myanmar, including women and children, were reported to have been killed in a single attack by junta forces. In response, a United Nations (UN) official called for the government to investigate the matter.

Two humanitarian workers were also reported to have died in the same attack, deepening the tragedy in the Southeast Asian country.

UN findings

On Christmas Day 2021, photos that emerged online were believed to have shown a pair of torched trucks and a car in the Hpruso township in the state of Kayah. In those vehicles, several burnt bodies were found.

When word got out that the military stopped several vehicles in that area, the self-proclaimed People’s Defense Forces (PDF), a local resistance movement that has been fighting the military government, found the vehicles on Christmas morning, a member of the PDF claimed.

“When we went to check in the area this morning, we found dead bodies burnt in two trucks. We found 27 dead bodies,” an anonymous member told AFP. 

“We found 27 skulls,” said another anonymous source, who added that there were probably more bodies that they could not find.

Currently, the PDF and the military have engaged in several armed confrontations as the former rose up to challenge the junta, culminating in a “bloody stalemate.”

According to the military, seven cars were stopped after driving “in a suspicious way” on Christmas Eve, before they were ambushed in an attack in Hpruso, killing a number of “terrorists with weapons,” the state media reported.

In an interview with AFP, spokesman Zaw Min Tun stated that the soldiers killed “a number of people in the following clash.”

The Myanmar Witness monitor group said that local media and eyewitness accounts, from local fighters, saw that 35 people, including women and children, were murdered by the military on Friday, Dec. 24, in Hpruso. The incident was backed up by satellite imagery of a fire in the area on the same day.

Humanitarian workers shot down

Amidst the tragic discovery, two humanitarian workers of the Save the Children organization, previously declared missing, were confirmed to have been killed in the massacre.

According to the London-based organization, which has operated since 1995, the two staff members were heading back to their office when their private vehicle was attacked.

Save the Children stated that they were “horrified” of the atrocities against innocent civilians and their staff, and are planning their own investigation into the situation.

“The events of last week are just par for the army’s inhumanity and immorality,” Michael Isherwood, chair of the Burma Humanitarian Mission, said.

Isherwood also went on to describe the military as one that “randomly” shoots unarmed men, women and children, steals livestock and burns homes down, and even commits rape.

The workers were aged 32 and 28 at the time of their deaths. For security reasons, their names have been withheld. 

An anonymous humanitarian worker believes that the attack was deliberately conducted to “oppress through fear.” For her, the attack was not just a new senseless act of violence, but a completely “normal tactic.”

Myanmar’s chaos

Upon the discovery of the deaths, UN official Martin Griffiths shared his horror of the event online, stating, “I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international human law.” He also requested the Myanmar government  investigate the incident to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“Moreover, I call upon the Myanmar Armed Forces and all armed groups in Myanmar to take all measures to protect civilians from harm,” he added.

Since the coup in February 2021 that saw the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar has seen the deaths of more than 1,300 people as part of a crackdown by the military junta, according to a monitoring group.

On Dec. 7, a young farmhand told AFP that about 50 soldiers captured and killed 10 people in the village of Done Taw, including five teenagers – one of whom was only 14. A photo of the burnt remains of a victim was taken by his friend, suggesting that the victim was burned alive.

“I am very upset, it is unacceptable,” he said. Like many others, the farmhand asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. 

Another village called Mo So, home to the Karenni minority, also became a site of brutal killings, with at least 35 civilians reported dead and their bodies also burned.

The process has continued to be repeated across multiple villages and towns, representing a pattern of death and destruction to Myanmar’s own populace.

Still, long before the junta rose to power, the country’s military was already widely panned for the genocide committed against the Rohingya Muslim population in 2017, where thousands were killed.

A special envoy from the UN called for support from other Southeast Asian countries to “engage all sides in the crisis” in Myanmar. 

Though Cambodia, another country with similar cases of human rights abuses, has been made the new chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the recent meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing could risk “legitimizing” the junta’s actions, rights groups said.