BANGKOK -- Outrage spread on social media in Myanmar on Wednesday over images and accounts of the alleged killing and burning of 11 villagers captured by government troops in the country's northwest.
Photos and a video of charred corpses in Done Taw village in Sagaing region circulated widely Tuesday. They were said to be have been taken shortly after the men were killed and their bodies set on fire.
The material could not be independently verified. An account given to The Associated Press by a person who said he went to the scene generally matched descriptions of the incident carried by independent Myanmar media.
The government has not commented on the allegations. If confirmed, they would be the latest atrocity in an increasingly bitter struggle following the military's seizure of power in February and ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The takeover was initially met with nonviolent street protests, but after police and soldiers used lethal force against demonstrators, violence escalated as opponents of military rule took up arms in self defense.
The witness who spoke to the AP said about 50 troops marched into Done Taw village at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, seizing anyone who did not manage to flee.
“They arrested 11 innocent villagers,” said the witness, who described himself as a farmer and an activist and asked to remain anonymous for his own safety,
He added that the captured men were not members of the locally organized People’s Defense Force, which sometimes engages the army in combat. He said the captives had their hands tied behind them and were set on fire.
He did not give a reason for the soldiers' assault. Accounts in Myanmar media said they appeared to have acted in retaliation for an attack earlier that morning by People’s Defense Force members.
Other witnesses cited in Myanmar media said the victims were members of a defense force, though the witness who spoke to the AP described them as members of a less formally organized village protection group.
There are resistance activities in the cities and the countryside, but the fighting is deadliest in rural areas where the army can unleash greater force against its targets. In recent months the struggle has been sharpest in Sagaing and other areas of the northwest.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed deep concern at the reports “of the horrific killing of 11 people” and strongly condemned such violence, saying “credible reports indicate that five children were among those people killed.”
Dujarric reminded Myanmar’s military authorities of their obligations under international law to ensure the safety and protection of civilians and called for those responsible “for this heinous act” to be held accountable.
He reiterated the U.N.’s condemnation of violence by Myanmar’s security forces and stressed that this demands a unified international response. As of Dec. 8, he said, “security forces have killed more than 1,300 unarmed individuals, including more than 75 children, through their use of lethal force or while in their custody since the military takeover on Feb. 1.”
The alleged killing in Done Taw was sharply decried by Myanmar’s underground National Unity Government, which has established itself as the country’s alternative administrative body in place of the military-installed government.
“On the 7th of December in Sagaing region, sickening scenes reminiscent of the Islamic State terrorist group bore witness to the the military’s escalation of their acts of terror,” the organization’s spokesperson, Dr. Sasa, said in a statement.
“The sheer brutality, savagery, and cruelty of these acts shows a new depth of depravity, and proves that, despite the pretense of the relative détente seen over the last few months, the junta never had any intention of deescalating their campaign of violence,” said Sasa, who uses one name.
The allegations follow Monday's conviction of Suu Kyi on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions and sentencing to four years in prison, which was quickly cut in half. The court's action was widely criticized as a further effort by the country’s military rulers to roll back the democratic gains of recent years.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday expressed “deep concern" at the sentencing of Suu Kyi, ousted President Win Myint and others and reiterated previous calls for the release of all those arbitrarily detained since the Feb. 1 military takeover.
“The members of the Security Council once again stressed their continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar, and underlined the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, pursue constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law," a council statement said.