Members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard on a street in Yangon on July 19, 2022, on the 75th Martyrs’ Day, which marks the anniversary of the assassination of independence leaders, including general Aung San, father of the currently deposed and imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi.(AFP/Stringer)
The Myanmar junta confirmed on Wednesday that it was responsible for an airstrike in the country’s northwestern region of Sagaing that reportedly killed up to 100 people, eliciting an outcry against the continuing violence and the silence of Myanmar’s ASEAN neighbors.
The Tuesday attack came barely a week after ASEAN chair Indonesia said diplomatic progress was being made in Myanmar, despite the continued efforts of its military rulers to quash resistance to their 2021 overthrow of a democratically elected government.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government, consisting of former lawmakers from ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, called the strike a “heinous act”.
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Myanmar justifies deadly air strike as outcry mounts
CNA – Myanmar’s ruling junta yesterday confirmed that it carried out Tuesday’s air strike on a northwestern village in which dozens of people were reported killed, drawing condemnation from the United Nations (UN) and Western powers.
The exact death toll from the air strike on the remote Kanbalu township in the Sagaing region remains unclear.
But it is believed that up to 100 people were killed, making it the deadliest in a recent string of military air attacks.
UN rights chief Volker Turk said he was “horrified” by the deadly air strike, whose victims he said included schoolchildren performing dances, with the global body calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.
The junta said it carried out the attack on a gathering organised by its insurgent opponents, and if civilians were also killed, it was because they were being forced to help the “terrorists”.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told military broadcast channel Myawaddy late on Tuesday that the attack on the ceremony held by the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow administration, for their armed People’s Defence Force (PDF) was aimed at restoring peace and stability in the region.
“During that opening ceremony, we conducted the attack. PDF members were killed. They are the ones opposing the government of the country, the people of the country,” said Zaw Min Tun.
Zaw Min Tun said photographs showed some of those killed were in uniform and some in civilian clothes, accusing the PDF of falsely claiming civilian deaths when their forces were killed.
He also accused members of the PDF of committing “war crimes” and killing “monks, teachers and innocent residents” in the area who did not support the opposition. Citing residents of the region, BBC Burmese, Radio Free Asia (RFA) Burmese, and the Irrawaddy news portal reported between 80 and 100 people, including civilians, had been killed in the attack by the military.
According to a PDF member, about 100 bodies, including 16 children, had been cremated.
“The exact death toll is still unclear since… body parts are scattered all over the place,” said the PDF member, who declined to be identified.
“According to our ground information we hit the place of their weapons’ storage and that exploded and people died due to that,” he said.
Referring to accusations of civilian casualties, he said “some people who were forced to support them probably died as well”.
Myanmar’s lightly armed opposition fighters have no effective defences against the military’s air force.
In October, a military jet attacked a concert, killing at least 50 civilians, singers and members of an ethnic minority insurgent force in Kachin State in the north.
NUG spokesman Kyaw Zaw said air force jets dropped bombs on villagers and helicopter gunships then followed up, calling it “another senseless, barbaric, brutal attack by the military”.
“We… share the great pain felt by the families affected by this tragedy,” NUG said in a statement.
The military denies accusations it has committed atrocities against civilians and says it is fighting “terrorists” determined to destabilise the country.
UN chief Antonio Guterres condemned the attack and reiterated “his call for the military to end the campaign of violence against the Myanmar population throughout the country”, according to a statement from his spokesperson.
Washington also denounced the “reprehensible” attack.
“We strongly condemn the regime’s air strikes and urge the regime to cease the violence,” United States State Department Counselor Derek Chollet tweeted.
Human Rights Watch Asia Division Deputy Director Phil Robertson said the strike was likely to have a chilling effect across Myanmar society. “I think this will cause greater fear amongst the people,” he told AFP.
“I think in the future, communities will be reluctant to hold a… mass gathering of any sort, recognising that they could be bombed, they could be attacked.”
The attack came as Myanmar was preparing to mark the Buddhist new year – Thingyan – which begins today and traditionally involves public water fights, but celebrations are expected to be muted.
“As the people of Myanmar celebrate their New Year, the European Union (EU) is deeply shocked by reports of the latest atrocity committed by the military regime in Sagaing, taking the lives of dozens of innocent civilians,” EU foreign affairs spokesperson Nabila Massrali said.
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