Myanmar army bombing accused of burning 160 houses
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BANGKOK (AP) – More than 160 buildings in a town in northwest Myanmar, including at least two churches, were destroyed by fires sparked by shelling by government troops, local media and activists reported on Saturday.
The destruction of parts of the town of Thantlang in Chin State appears to be a further escalation in the ongoing struggle between the Myanmar army-installed government and the forces opposing it. The military seized power in February from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, but failed to quell widespread resistance.
A government spokesperson denied the “absurd allegations reported in the media that were destructive of the country” and accused the insurgents of starting the fighting and setting the fires.
Human rights groups and UN experts recently warned that the government is planning a major offensive in the northwest of the country, including Chin State, as well as the Magway and from Sagaing. Residents of the rugged region are renowned for their fierce fighting spirit and have offered fierce resistance to the military regime despite being only lightly armed with single shot shotguns and homemade weapons.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the blaze, which started early Friday and burned through the night, according to reports.
Aid agency Save the Children said its offices were in one of the buildings which was “deliberately set on fire”.
“The destruction caused by this violence is absolutely senseless. Not only has this damaged one of our offices, but it threatens to destroy the entire city and the homes of thousands of families and children, ”said a statement from the London-based agency.
Thantlang had already been largely abandoned due to previous attacks by government soldiers.
Eighteen other houses and a hotel were destroyed by a fire started by another bombing on September 18, and a Christian pastor was shot dead while trying to help put out the blaze.
More than 10,000 residents then fled the city, some staying temporarily in neighboring villages and others seeking refuge across the border in Mizoram, India. About 20 employees and children in care at an orphanage on the outskirts of town are believed to be the only remaining residents.
The Chin Human Rights Organization released a statement saying that the fires in Thantlang were extinguished on Saturday morning, after 200 houses could have been destroyed.
“Most of the structures on the main street, which house shop stalls and all kinds of businesses, have been destroyed. There is nothing more to save, ”said the statement, signed by the group’s deputy executive director, Salai Za Uk Ling. “The manner in which the fire was burning indicates that it was not just incendiary rocket fire, but also the deliberate burning of houses and structures manually.”
According to the Chinland-Thantlang Defense Force. a local militia fighting the army, a Presbyterian church and a building housing the Pentecostal Church on the Rock were among 164 structures she had counted destroyed by fire.
Defense forces said the shelling began after the fighting began as they tried to stop government soldiers from looting a house in the town.
In a telephone interview on Saturday night on state television MRTV, government spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said the events started when members of the PDF – or People’s Defense Forces, as local militias are usually called – attacked the security forces, which retaliated. . He said the insurgents hid in houses in the town and set their escape on fire, preventing government reinforcements from extinguishing the flames by shooting at them.
He added that it was not possible to bring firefighting means from the state capital, Hakha, because a bridge on the road connecting the towns was blown up on October 21.
“It is needless to say who blew up the bridge. These videos can be found on nation-destroying media,” Zaw Min Thin said, referring to a video that circulated widely on a social video showing several explosive charges exploding. on the span. He described the sequence of events as “a deliberate conspiracy”.
The Chin Human Rights Organization statement expressed fear that what happened was just the start of a major government offensive known as “Operation Anawrahta.” The government did not recognize such a plan.
“The high number of troops sent to Chin State in the past few days and weeks is truly unprecedented. They brought destruction and death with them, ”the human rights group said. He called for urgent action by the UN Security Council “to help prevent mass atrocities before they happen”.
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