Army shelling in Myanmar blamed for setting 160 homes ablaze

BANGKOK (AP), More than 160 buildings, including two churches, were destroyed in a northern Myanmar town by shelling, activists and local media reported Saturday.
The destruction of large swathes of Thantlang, Chin state, appeared to be an additional escalation of the ongoing struggle between Myanmar's military-installed government (and forces opposed to it). Although the army took power from Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government in February, it has not been able to quell widespread resistance.

A government spokesperson denied the nonsense allegations made in the country-destroying media and blamed insurgents.

U.N. experts and human rights groups recently warned that the government plans to launch a major offensive against the country's northwest. This includes Chin state and the Magway and Sagaing regions. The rugged residents are known for their fighting spirit and resistance to military rule, despite only being lightly armed with single shot hunting rifles or homemade weapons.

According to reports, there were no immediate reports of any casualties in the fire that started Friday morning and burned through the night.

Save the Children, a humanitarian aid agency, said that its offices were located in one of the buildings set ablaze.

This violence causes destruction that is completely senseless. The violence has not only damaged one of our offices but could also cause widespread destruction to the entire town and the homes and lives of thousands of children and families, according to a statement by the London-based agency.

Thantlang was already largely abandoned after previous attacks by soldiers from the government.

18 other houses were also destroyed and a hotel was damaged by another shelling attack on Sept. 18. A Christian pastor was also killed trying to put out the flames.

The town was evacuated by more than 10,000 people. Some stayed in nearby villages while others sought refuge in India, Mizoram. It is believed that the town's only survivors are 20 children and staff who were living in an orphanage at the outskirts.

Continue the story

According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, Thantlang fires had been put out by Saturday morning. 200 homes may have been damaged.

Many of the structures along the main street with shop stalls, and other businesses were destroyed. According to Salai Za Uk Liang, the group's deputy executive director, there is nothing that can be salvaged. It is evident that the fire was not lit by rocket fires, but was also intentionally torched.

According to the Chinland Defense Force -Thantlang. A local militia fighting the military destroyed 164 structures by fire, including a building housing Pentecostal Church of the Rock and a Presbyterian Church.

According to the defense force, the shelling started after fighting broke out in an attempt to stop government soldiers looting a town house.

Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tu, a government spokesperson, said that the events started when people from the PDF, or People's Defense Forces attacked security forces. They then returned fire. According to him, the insurgents hid in their homes and started fires as they fled. This prevented government reinforcements from extinguishing the flames by firing at them.

He said that it was impossible to transport firefighting resources from Hakha, the capital of the state, as a bridge connecting the two towns had been destroyed on Oct. 21.

"It is not necessary to mention who blew up that bridge. These videos can also be found on country-destroying media," Zaw Min Thin said, referring to a video that circulated widely via social video and showed several explosive charges being detonated at the span. The sequence of events was described by him as a deliberate plot.

The Chin Human Rights Organization stated concern that the events of today may be just the beginning a major government offensive called Operation Anawrahta.

It is truly remarkable to see the number of troops sent to Chin state over recent weeks and days. The human rights group said that they brought death and destruction with them. The U.N. Security Council must take immediate action to prevent mass atrocities from happening, according to the group.