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March 2, 2024

Child fighters beheaded as Myanmar killings rise after martial law

Two teenagers found beheaded last week were two of the most gruesome victims of an escalating number of violent incidents that the United Nations’ special rapporteur says are “consistent with patterns of brutality” among forces affiliated with the military junta.

The teenagers were People’s Defense Force members who were trying to plant a mine while retreating after a battle with junta forces in the northern Sagaing region, the leader of a PDF Force force told Radio Free Asia. They were captured near Nyaung Pin Kan village on Feb. 25 and killed the following day in Myinmu township, the PDF leader said.

“We found their bodies on the morning of the 27th,” he said. “The scene suggested that they were beheaded alive by the military soldiers.”

The victims were 15-year-old La Min Sein, also known as Pho Sein, and 17-year-old Pho Ke. Photographs seen by RFA show the heads, along with other bloodstained body parts. The PDF leader said the two teens didn’t have any gunshot wounds.

He said he went to ask local villagers about the incident, but there was no one in the village following a military raid.

In a separate incident, another PDF leader told RFA that two soldiers from his force were found beheaded following a Feb. 27 battle with military troops. 

His forces had to retreat from the battle at Kan Taw village due to lack of ammunition. When they returned the next morning, they found the bodies of the two fighters with their heads left hanging on a fence post and from a bamboo hut, he said.

The two separate beheading incidents took place in the same general area.

Generating ‘fear and terror’

Mass killings suspected to be carried out by the military have increased significantly in 14 townships in Sagaing since martial law was imposed in February, according to local residents.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar, told RFA on Friday that this pattern of brutality from the junta has included “using extreme violence to generate fear and terror, especially in areas where opposition to the junta is particularly strong.”

“Documentation of these and other atrocities is critical,” he said. “Those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity must know that they will be held accountable.”

Earlier this week, junta troops razed an entire village in Sagaing region, leaving three people dead and nearly all the village’s 700 homes destroyed.

And in another incident in Sagaing, 16 bodies were found in Nyaung Yin village in Myinmu township. Military troops had abducted 17 civilians from the nearby Tar Taing village early on March 1.

Residents told RFA that a military force of nearly 100 soldiers took part in the raid on Tar Taing village.

“Tar Taing village and Nyaung Yin village in Myinmu are separated only by the Mu River,” said a resident, who refused to be named for security reasons. “Tar Taing villagers didn’t flee as they thought that the military forces would not come in their direction.”

Victims wore longyi and other civilian clothing

The bodies of seven men were found in Nyaung Yin. The bodies of six men and three women were found at another location. They all appeared to be shot dead from behind, the resident said.

The 16 victims were all between the ages of 30 and 50. It was unknown if the final missing person was still alive, the resident said.

Military troops also mutilated and killed a local defense force leader during the March 1 raid on Tar Taing, according to local residents.

Junta spokesman for Sagaing region, Aye Hlaing, said that he wasn’t aware of the incidents when contacted by RFA.

A Telegram account controlled by pro-military writers reported that a battle broke out between military forces in Sagaing and PDF forces near Tar Taing village on March 1. The account reported that another fight broke out near Nyaung Yin village, and that 15 PDF members were arrested on March 2.

Locals said that those arrested and killed were innocent civilians.

According to video footage and photos of the victims circulating on social media, the bodies of the victims had civilian clothes, such as regular longyi (sarong) and shirts, and some of the victims had been shot in the head.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said there have been 3,073 deaths due to arrests and killings of the junta forces since the 2021 military coup d’etat, according to statistics released by the group on March 1. 

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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