"There had been no fighting here and they just came to destroy things -- they torched 60 houses in our village," Win Soe said.

A group of about a dozen young men -- some in combat fatigues, football socks and sneakers, others in shorts and sandals -- arrived to survey the burned remnants of the village as they patrolled the district, trailing military forces.

The unit is part of a local "People's Defence Force" (PDF), dozens of which have sprung up in Sagaing and across the country to fight the military in an attempt to overturn the coup that last year ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected civilian government.

Often armed with little more than homemade weapons and knowledge of the terrain, some of these groups have surprised the military with their effectiveness, according to some analysts.

The junta has responded with an offensive that rights groups say includes razing villages, mass extra-judicial killings and airstrikes on civilians.

In May, the UN humanitarian agency UNOCHA said more than 12,000 civilian properties were thought to have been burned or destroyed since the coup.

The military accuses PDF fighters -- which it has declared "terrorists" -- of setting the fires and says their assassination campaigns have killed hundreds including Buddhist monks, teachers and medical workers.

A million displaced

Post-coup violence has pushed the number of displaced people in Myanmar to over one million, according to the UN, adding to those previously forced from their homes by long-running conflicts in ethnic border areas.

Sagaing -- home to mostly ethnic Bamar and a traditional recruiting ground for the military -- has seen more than half a million people displaced since the coup, the UN said.

Even in villages that escape being torched, locals said they lived in fear of violence from the military.

"When soldiers came to our village, we hid behind some shrubs, but my son was in bad health and could only hide nearby," said San Nwae, from Mintaingpin village, close to Tharyarkone.

"When the soldiers found him, they beat him to death. From my hiding place, I heard the sound of someone being killed," she said.

"After soldiers left the village... I came out from hiding and I realised the one who had been killed was my son."

Diplomatic efforts led by the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to resolve Myanmar's bloody impasse have made little headway, with the generals refusing to engage with opponents.

"We have been fighting the military for one year, but we don't have enough weapons and we are just fighting with our homemade guns," said one anti-junta PDF member.

He admitted that his group of about 20 fighters was often unable to hold off the military for long.

"When the soldiers come to our village, we warn villagers to run away and we try to evacuate them," he said.

"If soldiers arrest villagers, most of them are killed."

Air strike kills 11 school students

At least 11 schoolchildren died in an air strike and firing on a Myanmar village, the UN children's agency said, an attack the country's junta said targeted rebels hiding in the area.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military seized power in a coup in February last year, with nearly 2,300 civilians killed in a crackdown on dissent according to a local monitoring group.

The Sagaing region in the country's northwest has seen some of the fiercest fighting, and amid clashes between anti-coup fighters and the military, entire villages have been burned down.

The UN children's agency UNICEF condemned Friday's incident in Depeyin township in Sagaing.

"On 16 September, at least 11 children died in an air strike and indiscriminate fire in civilian areas," UNICEF said in a statement issued Monday.

It said schools must be safe and never targeted.

"At least 15 children from the same school are still missing," UNICEF said, calling for their immediate safe release.

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