Report Published: 22 Jul 2022
The growing use of arson against civilian communities
Between September 2021 and May 2022 Myanmar Witness has verified almost 200 fires that have been reported to have occurred as part of arson attacks on civilian communities in Myanmar, affecting homes, buildings and livelihoods.
Some of the fires can be attributed to the Myanmar security forces and pro-military groups through either direct or indirect evidence. In a number of the cases, while the fire was the initial indicator, more evidence was identified providing further details on the context of the events, including killings, executions, forced displacement and detentions. Some of these will be covered by a forthcoming Myanmar Witness report on retaliation against communities in the north-west of Myanmar.
While there were attacks identified on communities between September and December 2021, this rapidly increased in the beginning of 2022 with at least 40 attacks occurring in January and February alone, followed by at least 66 attacks in March and April and 40 in May 2022.
In 2021, fires were focused along the river joining the Sagaing and Magway region as clashes intensified in the low-lying areas. In 2022 Myanmar Witness verified a significant trend of fires happening specifically in Magway’s Pauk Township and Sagaing’s Pale, Yinmarbin, Shwebo and Taze Townships. These trends reflected broader conflict dynamics and the locations of clashes between People’s Defence Forces (PDFs), ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) and the Myanmar military.
There have been numerous reports of the deliberate mass burning of buildings, including essential civilian infrastructure and protected buildings such as churches, by the security forces, allegedly in retaliation for community support to PDFs and the National Unity Government (NUG). Myanmar Witness has verified five incidents of large-scale, systematic destruction by fire in communities reported to be linked to anti-military and pro-democracy activity. While it was not possible to attribute these fires to the Myanmar military (who continue to claim that PDF forces are setting fire to their own communities), footage verified by Myanmar Witness is consistent with the dates and locations reported by local media and residents, who claim that the military were responsible.
EDITORS NOTE: Between completion of analysis and publication, Myanmar Witness verified a further 19 incidents of fire, bringing the total as of the end of June 2022 to 217 verified fires, with July verification ongoing.