The military government of Myanmar has denied reports of a new mass killing of civilians by its troops, instead blaming pro-democracy resistance groups for the deaths of more than 20 people, including three Buddhist monks.
The incident allegedly occurred on Saturday morning in the village of Nam Nein in the Pa-O region, near the border with Thailand. Reports of the killings surfaced on social media, with photos and videos showing monks and other men with apparent bullet wounds lying near the wall of a monastery’s main building. The images also revealed pools of blood and bullet holes dotting the wall.
However, Major General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for Myanmar’s ruling military council, claimed that the violence was initiated by the resistance forces, who ambushed army troops and members of an associated militia force, and then entered the village where fighting continued. He described the resistance forces as “terrorist groups” that had been posing threats to the area since early this month.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of committing another mass killing of civilians, this time at a monastery in a village in southern Shan State’s Pinlaung Township.https://t.co/tSdC7LN2SW
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) March 13, 2023
“The military had only counterattacked against the three resistance groups, and reports that soldiers were responsible for killing villagers were misinformation,” said Zaw Min Tun in an interview published Tuesday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
The Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, an anti-government guerrilla group, and the People’s Defense Force, which was formed by the pro-democracy movement after the 2021 military takeover, have denied responsibility for the killings. The group is fighting against the government and are dominant in the Pa-O area, which is next to Kayah State.
A local leader of the Karenni guerrillas who asked not to be identified because of fear of reprisals by the military, took photos of the aftermath of the attack. His group’s snipers in the surrounding area watched about 100 soldiers firing their guns and torching houses as they entered the village Saturday morning.
He also acknowledged that his forces had not witnessed the killings but had only seen the bodies when they entered the village late Saturday and took photos. He strongly denied that the resistance forces had been responsible for the killings, as had been alleged by the army and its supporters.
Critics of the military say there is strong evidence that the army has repeatedly carried out war crimes since seizing power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. Opposition to military rule has turned into what some U.N. experts have described as a civil war.
The military’s spokesperson said in an interview published Tuesday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper that the army had only counterattacked against the three resistance groups and that reports that soldiers were responsible for killing villagers were misinformation.
Human rights groups have raised concerns over the incident, with some speculating that the village’s proximity to the country’s capital might have caused the military to act to deter guerrilla activity in the area.
“It’s impossible for independent verifiers or independent researchers to go in. But it has the classic hallmarks of military atrocities,” said Manny Maung, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “I think that if we don’t get the opportunity to go in now, we’re likely never to know who the actual perpetrators were.”
The military took power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, and critics have accused it of repeatedly carrying out war crimes. However, the military government has denied any wrongdoing and has blamed the pro-democracy movement for instigating violence. The situation in Myanmar remains tense, and the international community has called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.