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 UN experts have described as a civil war.
Earlier this month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk accused the ruling generals of implementing “a scorched earth policy in an attempt to stamp out opposition”.
Anti-government resistance groups and villagers who had fled Nam Nein earlier but kept in touch by phone with the monastery said about 30 people had been sheltering in its main building since fighting in the area escalated last month.
Exactly what happened Saturday morning is unclear, but the aftermath was documented in photos and video.
Those released on social media by the anti-government Karenni Nationalities Defense Force showed monks and other men with apparent bullet wounds lying near and against the wall of the monastery’s main building. They also show pools of blood and bullet holes dotting the wall.
The Pa-O area is next to Kayah State, where the Karenni, an ethnic minority fighting against the government, are dominant.
A local leader of the Karenni guerrillas who took the photos said that his group’s snipers in the surrounding area had used their rifle scopes to watch about 100 soldiers firing their guns and torching houses as they entered the village Saturday morning.
He said the snipers were unable to watch more, because they had to withdraw when coming under fire from government aircraft.
The Karenni guerrilla, who asked not to be identified because of fear of reprisals by the military, 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 the resistance forces had been responsible for the killings, as had been alleged by the army and its supporters.
Major General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for Myanmar’s ruling military council, said 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, the Karenni National Progressive Party – an ethnic minority militia battling the army – and their allies in the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force and People’s Defense Force, as “terrorist groups” that had been posing threats to the area since early this month.
The Karenni have been fighting for decades for greater autonomy. The People’s Defense Forces were formed by the pro-democracy movement after the 2021 military takeover, and are allied with groups such as the Karenni.
“When KNPF/KNPP/PDF terrorist groups violently opened fire, it was seen that some villagers were killed and injured,” the military spokesperson said in an interview published in Tuesday’s edition of the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
“We only attacked KNP, KNDF and PDF groups,” Zaw Min Tun said. “The news about the death of the villagers is just wrong. Some of the villagers were killed and injured as they opened fire.”
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