In the Buddhist heartland of Myanmar rubble and ashes, overlooked by a single golden pagoda, are almost all that remains of the wood and brick houses most people built for themselves in the quiet riverside village of Bin.
As the military tries to suppress opposition to last year’s coup, more than 5,500 civilian buildings have been destroyed in 100 villages such as Bin since the start of this year, according to media reports compiled by activist group Data For Myanmar.
US earth-imaging company Planet Labs and US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite images reviewed by Reuters show widespread torching of villages in the central part of the country.
Reuters’ photos, which confirm local media reports, provide the strongest evidence to date that the military is using widespread arson to step up its assault on resistance in central Sagaing, where residents have told Reuters there is armed opposition to the junta.
Tom Andrews, the Special Envoy for Human Rights in Myanmar for the United Nations (UN), described the campaign as fear-mongering. You are considered an enemy if you live in an area or village that they (the junta) believe is particularly supportive of those who took up arms.”
Myanmar troops torch thousands of homes
As troops crush resistance in Myanmar, thousands of homes have been torched since the start of the year. These maps show the locations of the various villages where the burnings have taken place.
Andrews, who is based in the US, has spoken with witnesses and other individuals who have provided him with information on the ground. In recent months, soldiers had led ground assaults and jets had carried out airstrikes in Sagaing, these people told him.
The junta, which overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, 2021, says any opposition to it is illegal and says it is seeking to restore order in the country. The military in Myanmar did not respond to requests for comment on this story. In recent months, the junta has accused opposition forces of burning villages without evidence.
The military and pro-military militias have been setting fire to villages in central Myanmar almost every day since December, according to BBC Burmese and local media reports compiled by Data For Myanmar. Nearly all the largest blazes are visible in NASA satellite photos.
Reuters reports that large-scale displacements have been caused by military attacks and arson. According to the UN, more than 52,000 people fled their homes in just the last week of February.
In the formerly peaceful, mainly Buddhist central heartland, this is the first time such tactics have been used.
The region has experienced intense fighting in the past year between junta troops and members of the People’s Defense Force (PDF), the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG), which was ousted in the coup. NUG and PDF have been declared illegal and branded terrorist groups by the junta.