Economic Catastrophe as Troops Torch Magway’s Oil Fields

Economic Catastrophe as Troops Torch Magway’s Oil Fields

Magway’s oil industry is facing huge financial losses after the Burmese military set fire to all eight oil fields of Pauk and Myaing townships. Local traders told DVB that fires, the most recent of which was set at 6 p.m. last night, continue to rage, causing consternation amongst the tens of thousands of people said to rely on proceeds from the industry.

“Our lives are gone. We had to stay silent as we didn’t have [weapons] in our hands… many workers are fleeing, abandoning their businesses and lands,” one oil merchant said, adding that the magnitude of the loss made the economic damage difficult to quantify; he estimates his personal loss runs to hundreds of thousands of kyat. One day after troops began their attacks, locals told DVB that total damages would run into trillions of kyat, or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“They have told us that they will destroy the entire area.”

This is the tenth day that the fields have burned, and locals report having received little help whilst waiting for PDF groups that never arrived.

“Local PDFs have said online that they would take action, but no such thing happened,” he said. Others have reported losing faith in local PDF factions following the incident. 

“We would even be satisfied if [the PDFs] would propose a strategy to defeat [the military].”

For now, as sites across Magway continue to burn, hope remains low. Troops are reported to have set fire to all of the industry’s infrastructure; from storage tanks to production wells, fuel tankers, buildings, offices, and fields surrounding the wells. Locals say the fires will take three days to extinguish.

A Myaing PDF spokesperson told DVB that his group had avoided fighting in the oil fields as they had been afraid of the consequences of firing in the already highly flammable dry zone. Two resistance groups — the MVRF and Myaing PDF — as well as an additional guerrilla group under the control of Myaing PDF claim to control the area with the occasional assistance of the Sagaing PRA. 

Sources told DVB that they believed troops began burning the fields after drivers of fuel tankers — who had been paying soldiers to allow them to transport oil — withheld bribes at the behest of PDF groups.

Around 500 military personnel are reported to have been sent to the oil fields. Front line soldiers had allegedly demanded money from owners as other troops systematically began to set fire to every site along the main road. PDF groups say that junta troops were able to seize sizable taxes from the fields.

“They attacked the area with a massive number [of troops] and we couldn’t fight back. As we prioritize the safety of civilians, we retreated and will defeat them by planting landmines,” Myaing PDF’s spokesperson said. “However, the villages in Myaing township are very close to one another and it could’ve encouraged [the military] to set fire to civilian homes. So, we decided that we couldn’t fight back.”

Local PDFs reported planting several landmines to snare troops who gave chase and claim that at least five detonated.

There are said to be thousands of oil wells in the affected area, covering around 50 plots of land between Myaing and Pauk townships. Those in the region say that approximately 100,000 people relied on the businesses and lands that have been destroyed by the military.