(Reuters) – A Myanmar militia force fighting the army in a central part of the country and residents have found at least 40 bodies in jungle areas in recent weeks, including some showing signs of torture, a militia member and media reports said.
Since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, hundreds of people have been killed as the army violently quelled protests, and in clashes between soldiers and often hastily assembled, lightly armed local militias.
The bodies were found in several different locations around Kani, a town in the Sagaing area, which has seen fierce fighting in recent months between the army and the militia groups set up by opponents of military rule.
Reuters could not independently verify the claims and a spokesman for the military did not answer calls seeking comment.
Fighting in the area has now mainly stopped and it was unclear if more bodies would be found, said a member of the Kani militia, who asked not to be identified.
“Most villagers in the remote area had fled to the nearby town,” he said, accusing the military and a rival pro-junta militia of carrying out reprisal killings and looting.
Twelve more bodies had been found on July 30, including a 14-year-old, and all showed signs of heavy bruising, The Irrawaddy newspaper reported, citing residents.
Earlier in July, 16 bodies were found near another village in the area and a further 12 in other areas, the paper said.
Reuters reported last month that at least seven bodies had been found and militia groups were searching for more.
The militia member also put the total number of bodies so far at around 40, found on several occasions.
The Myanmar Now news portal said that, in the most recent discovery, the victims were found covered by a sheet under a burned hut and were starting to decompose.
A military information newsletter dated July 30 said security forces had been attacked by around 100 “terrorists” with small arms near Zeepindwin village in Kani. It said soldiers had retaliated and nine bodies had been retrieved, along with hunting rifles, homemade mines and a grenade.
Security forces have killed at least 946 people since the coup, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a Thai-based activist group. The junta has disputed the tally and also said many members of the security forces have been killed.