Myanmar military shells restive town, destroying dozens of homes

Residents in Thantlang have been forced to flee amid an ongoing military crackdown on dissent.

Families have been displaced by fighting in Chin State, Myanmar [File: Reuters]

Myanmar troops have shelled a restive western town, destroying dozens of houses amid an ongoing crackdown against towns resisting the military coup.

Thantlang, in western Chin State, was shelled after a confrontation with a local self-defence force, according to Khit Thit media and The Chindwin news outlet.

The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos since a coup in February, with more than 1,200 people killed in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group. Self-defence forces have sprung up to take on the military, escalating attacks and bloody reprisals.

A Thantlang resident who had fled the town following earlier clashes told the AFP news agency that the shelling began after members of the local forces captured a soldier.

“Soon after it happened, heavy artilleries were fired,” he said, adding he had heard between 80 and 100 houses had been destroyed.

“We don’t know if houses were burned after being hit by artilleries or if they set fire to the houses.”

Pictures published on local media showed pillars of smoke billowing into the sky from the town perched amid green hills.

Save the Children said in a statement that “at least 100 buildings are thought to have been destroyed so far by the fire … which reportedly broke out at around 11:00 am following the use of heavy weapons”.

The group said its office was destroyed amid heavy clashes and all of its 10 staff members had been forced to flee. The agency was forced to suspend its lifesaving health programmes in Thantlang after violence broke out last month.

“The destruction caused by this violence is utterly senseless,” Save the Children said. “The people who live here have already had to flee their homes to escape violent clashes in recent weeks. Many will now have lost what little they had left.”

Thantlang was home to nearly 10,000 people before residents were forced to flee last month, amid a surge in the military’s offensive in Chin State.

The United Nations said earlier this month it feared a greater human rights catastrophe in Myanmar following the military coup.

UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews said he had received information that tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons were being moved into restive regions in the north and northwest.

He also indicated that the military government had engaged in probable crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“We should all be prepared, as the people in this part of Myanmar are prepared, for even more mass atrocity crimes. I desperately hope that I am wrong,” said Andrews.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies