More than 6,000 residents from nine villages near a Chinese-operated copper mine in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region fled their homes as troops loyal to the ruling military junta entered their communities on Wednesday, locals said.
The exodus occurred the same day as the United Nations Security Council called for the release of former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in its first-ever resolution on the political crisis in the country wracked by instability and violence since the military deposed her and other elected leaders in a February 2021 coup.
The soldiers, who provide security for China’s state-owned Wanbao Co., which owns the nearby Letpadaung copper mine in Salingyi township, entered the villages situated next to the Pathein-Monywa Highway in Salingyi and adjacent Yinmarbin township at about 4 a.m., they said.
The mine is a joint venture between Wanbao and the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding Limited company. Following the military’s coup, employees walked off the job to join the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement, reducing the mine’s operating capacity by more than 80%.
Earlier this year, locals reported that workers were being recalled to the mine to restart operations after more than a year of downtime, prompting threats of an attack from anti-junta People’s Defense Force militias.
In response, the junta pledged to defend the mine, seen as a key source of revenue for the military regime.
Though the soldiers left in the afternoon, residents of Won Taw, Done Taw and Kan Kone villages in Salingyi township, and Aung Moe, Mya Pin Si, Mya Shwe Si, Bein Nwe Chaung, Kyay Sar Kya and Ywar Thar villages in Yinmarbin township, said they were afraid to return to their homes.
A column of nearly 100 soldiers in three military vehicles from the junta’s northwestern military command, along with a police battalion from Yinmarbin township, entered Done Taw village at 5 a.m., said one resident, who refused to be named for safety reasons.
“They positioned 10 soldiers each at the two entrances to the village that are located on the north and south sides,” he said. “Police officers were placed in the streets.”
When the forces moved to the center of the village, residents ran away frantically but soldiers detained a 14-year-old boy to use as a guide, the resident said. They released him that afternoon with a slap across his face.
The more than 2,000 residents from 500 houses in the village have not yet returned, he added.
The soldiers did not target Done Taw and other villages, but rather waited there to provide security for the Chinese workers returning to the mine.
‘Still hiding away’
A resident of Ywar Thar village who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said a column of about 50 soldiers was stationed beside the village but had not raided the homes.
“It looks like the military is taking security [precautions] for Chinese nationals going to the Wanbao company,” he said. “We are still hiding away from them for now. We don’t know for sure if they have left our streets or not.”
The troops did not torch or destroy any homes in the community because they appeared to only be performing regular security checks, the villager added.
After the security forces had taken up positions in the villages, two express buses with more than 40 passengers each drove past the Chindwin bridge in Yinmarbin township and entered the Wanbao company compound, said residents.
Aye Hlaing, the junta’s spokesman for Sagaing region, later told RFA that the three vehicles of troops in the area positioned themselves north and south of Wanbao in case any fighting broke out with the local PDF.
The military convoy entered the villages for security while four vehicles escorted passengers to Wanbao company at 4 a.m., said Sat Kyar Waday, a spokesman for the Yinmarbin People’s Defense Force.
“Although we were waiting to attack with landmines, we couldn’t do it as they did not come into our target area,” he told RFA.
More than 10 clashes between the military and the PDF had already taken place in Yinmarbin township, he said.
In the 22 months since the Burmese military seized control of the country from the democratically elected government, more than 1,000 homes in over 20 villages in Yinmarbin and Salingyi townships have been torched and destroyed by junta troops. The attacks forced more than 3,600 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter in monasteries and on vegetable fields, according to aid workers who are helping them.
More than 10,000 locals fled their homes on Dec. 12 when junta troops providing security for Wanbao raided their villages.
UN Security Council takes action
Reports of the exodus in Sagaing came as the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday passed its resolution on Myanmar 12-0, despite abstentions by China, Russia and India. The resolution expressed “deep concern” over the state of emergency imposed by the military and its impact on civilians. It also emphasized the need for humanitarian access in Myanmar and the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.
The resolution also requested further action in the form of a report from U.N. Secretary General António Guterres or his special envoy on Myanmar by March 15.
“Today’s resolution is long overdue, but it’s still a critical step forward for a Security Council whose silence on Myanmar had long supported global inaction and continued a cycle of impunity in the face of staggering human rights abuses,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, a New York-based human rights group.
“We know the Security Council has a legal and moral responsibility to respond to the crisis in Myanmar. And this resolution offers some reassurance that Council members understand this fact,” she said.
Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government welcomed the adoption of the resolution, but said it would have liked to have seen a “stronger text.” It called on the Security Council to build on the resolution “to take further and stronger action to ensure the swift end of the military junta and its crimes.”
There was no immediate response from Myanmar’s junta.
Myanmar’s powerful military has operated with impunity while committing human rights abuses for decades, including the 2017 genocide of Rohingya Muslims.
Translated by Myo Min Aung for RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Joshua Lipes.