BBC probe: Myanmar army carried out series of mass killings of civilians

The Myanmar military killed at least 40 civilians in a series of mass killings in July this year, a BBC investigation has revealed.

Survivors and eyewitnesses said soldiers, some of them as young as 17-year-old, separated men from their families and killed them, according to the report. 

Most of those killed in the incident appear to have been tortured first and then buried in shallow graves, as evident from video and images, reports the BBC.

The killings took place in four separate incidents in Kani Township - a stronghold of opposition in the Sagaing district of central Myanmar.

Civilians have resisted the military's takeover since it overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi's democratically-elected government during a February coup.

The BBC said it had spoken to 11 witnesses in Kani and compared their accounts with mobile phone footage and photographs collected by Myanmar Witness, a UK-based NGO that investigates human rights abuses in the country.

One of the largest killings took place in Yin village, where at least 14 men were tortured or beaten to death and their bodies thrown into a forested gully, says the report. 

The witnesses at Yin - whose names have been withheld to protect their identities - claimed the men were tied up and beaten before they were killed, it said.

"We couldn't stand to watch it so we kept our heads down, crying," the BBC report quoted a woman, whose brother, nephew and brother-in-law were killed.

"We begged them not to do it. They didn't care. They asked the women, 'Are your husbands among them? If they are, do your last rites’," she added.

A man who managed to escape the killings said the soldiers inflicted horrifying abuse on the men for hours before they died.

"They were tied up, beaten with stones and rifle butts and tortured all day," the report quoted the survivor, who added: "Some soldiers looked young, maybe 17 or 18, but some were really old. There was also a woman with them."

Several mutilated bodies were discovered in shallow mass graves in nearby Zee Bin Dwin village in late July, including a child and a disabled person. Several of the bodies were mutilated.

The body of a man in his sixties was discovered tied to a plum tree nearby. BBC footage of his corpse showed clear signs of torture. 

According to his family, his son and grandson fled when the military entered the village, but he stayed, believing that his age would protect him.

The BBC report also said these killings appeared to be a punishment for attacks on the military by civilian militias in the area, which are demanding the restoration of democracy. 

In the months leading up to the mass killings, military conflicts between local branches of the People's Defence Force - a collective name for civilian militia groups - had intensified in the area, including near Zee Bin Dwin.

Based on evidence gathered by the BBC, it is clear men were specifically targeted, a trend observed across Myanmar in recent months of male villagers being collectively punished for clashes between military and People's Defence Forces.

The families of those killed insisted that the men were not involved in attacks on the military. A woman who lost her brother in the Yin village massacre said she pleaded with the soldiers, telling them her brother "could not even handle a catapult".

She said a soldier replied, "Don't say anything. We are tired. We will kill you."

Since the coup, foreign journalists have been prohibited from reporting in Myanmar, and most non-state media outlets have shut down, making on-the-ground reporting all but impossible.

Myanmar's Deputy Minister for Information and military spokesperson, General Zaw Min Tun, was contacted by the BBC regarding the accusations raised in this story. The general did not deny that soldiers had committed mass murders.

"It can happen," he said. "When they treat us as enemies, we have the right to defend ourselves."

Currently, the United Nations is investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar military.

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