By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
NAYPYIDAW (Worthy News) – Residents in a mainly Christian area of Myanmar’s eastern Kayah State were still searching for answers Wednesday after the ruling army allegedly killed and tortured up to eight civilians.
Six people, including women and four teenage boys, were found January 26 mutilated and dumped in a septic well in Yay-yo village in the state’s war-torn Loikaw capital area, locals said.
Three victims were 17-year-old boys Eugene, Fei Dae Le, and David Kyaw Soe, as well as a 16-year-old boy John Paul, according to villagers and aid workers.
The other two victims discovered in the sewage pit have been confirmed as residents of Loikaw township’s Naung Yar Ward but weren’t publicly identified.
Two days later, the human remains of 63-year-old woman Daw Muta and her 23-year-old son, Saw Dar Htoo, were found in Loikaw’s Htudu-Ngantha village, several sources confirmed.
The footage seen by Worthy News purportedly showed rescue workers retrieving their bodies on January 28.
Residents and aid workers told U.S.-backed broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the cause of their deaths “has yet to be determined.”
RFA quoted a villager who buried the bodies in Yay-yo as saying they exhibited signs of torture, as well as bullet and stab wounds.
“Their faces were swollen. We are not sure if they were shot or stabbed in the abdomen, but most of them had injuries to the abdomen,” recalled the villager who spoke anonymously, citing fears of reprisal. “One victim was found with a bullet wound in the back.”
A woman who claimed to be Eugene’s aunt told RFA that her nephew returned home from a refugee camp with friends when he was taken away on January 25 by soldiers in Yay-yo village.
“The dogs [soldiers] came to the house at about 7 p.m. … The kids were snuggling in bed at the time as it was quite cold,” she said.
The woman added: “When the dogs [soldiers] showed up in front of the house, [Eugene] called his cousin, but the line suddenly went out. The soldiers even had a meal in the house, yet they did that to my nephew. A woman from a neighboring house said she saw three people with their hands tied up being led away.”
Eugene’s father recently died of disease, she explained, and the boy had been the family’s sole breadwinner.
The grim discoveries are part of more attacks involving Myanmar’s army that also involved the destruction of churches, according to aid groups and residents.
In published remarks, the Karenni Human Rights Group said some 12 civilians were killed, and another 20 died heavy shelling in Kayah State since early January.
A seven-year-old girl was reportedly among three killed when two helicopter gunships bombed a camp for internally displaced persons on January 17. “Unfortunately, there are more killings, a lot of killings,” Christian aid group Barnabas Fund quoted a source as saying, adding: “Please keep praying for us.”
In June 2021, the United Nations warned of “mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure” in Kayah State after “brutal and indiscriminate attacks” against civilians by the Myanmar military, known as Tatmadaw.
The Tatmadaw seized power in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in a coup on February 1, 2021, ousting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since the military seized power, authorities detained some 8,800 civilians, rights groups estimate. They killed almost 1,500, mostly during nonviolent anti-junta protests, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The military also launched offensives against armed ethnic groups and prodemocracy militias in remote border regions, residents and independent observers say.
Reports suggest residents of areas that include Loikaw township have been subjected to rights violations by troops that include torture, sexual assault, and murder.
The Karenni Social Network said a total of 198 civilians had been killed in Kayah state, most of them in Phruso and Demawso townships since the coup last February.
However, the military has justified a recent airstrike that killed at least six civilians, including two children, in Kayah’s Demawso township and sent thousands fleeing.
Myanmar’s military said it received reports that anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) militiamen gathered to attack government positions in Loikaw.
Responding to allegations that the army was responsible for deaths in Loikaw, junta Deputy Information Minister Major General Zaw Min Tun dismissed them as rumors.
“Allegations of such incidents are heard all the time and are not uncommon,” he told RFA. “It’s true there were armed clashes between the two sides in some places. The problem is that some of these so-called PDF terrorists wore civilian clothes and took cover as civilians,” the minister claimed.
“When they defeat us, they claim responsibility, but if they fail, they blame the army for killing civilians,” he said.
Militia members confirmed they had had frequent clashes with the military in and around Loikaw since January 8.
However, they added that “junta soldiers” were raiding houses in some of the town’s wards and nearby villages.
Christians are among minority groups being targeted by government forces as they are seen as a threat to the power base and ideology of the ruling army in the mainly Buddhist nation, activists say.
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