Airstrikes by Myanmar’s military on Tuesday killed as many as 100 people, including many children, who were attending a ceremony held by opponents of army rule, said a witness, a member of a local pro-democracy group and independent media.
The military is increasingly using airstrikes to counter a widespread armed struggle against its rule, which began in February 2021 when it seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. More than 3,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed since then by security forces.
A witness told The Associated Press that a fighter jet dropped bombs directly into a crowd of people who were gathering at 8 a.m. for the opening of a local office of the country’s opposition movement outside Pazigyi village in Sagaing region’s Kanbalu township. The area is about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Mandalay, the country’s second largest city.
About half an hour later, a helicopter appeared and fired at the site, said the witness, who asked not to be identified because he feared punishment by the authorities.
Initial reports put the death toll at around 50, but later tallies reported by independent media raised it to about 100. It was impossible to independently confirm details of the incident because reporting is restricted by the military government.
“I was standing a short distance from the crowd when a friend of mine contacted me on the phone about the approach of a fighter jet,” the witness said. “The jet dropped bombs directly on the crowd, and I jumped into a nearby ditch and hid. A few moments later, when I stood up and looked around, I saw people cut to pieces and dead in the smoke. The office building was destroyed by fire. About 30 people were injured. While the wounded were being transported, a helicopter arrived and shot more people. We are now cremating the bodies quickly.”
About 150 people had gathered for the opening ceremony, and women and 20-30 children were among the dead, he said, adding that those killed also included leaders of locally formed anti-government armed groups and other opposition organizations.
The United Nations strongly condemned the attack by the Myanmar armed forces and said those responsible must be brought to justice, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, stressing that the injured must receive medical treatment, which is “often a challenge in these circumstances.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “condemns all forms of violence and reaffirms the primacy of protection of civilians, in accordance with international humanitarian law and reiterates his call for the military to end the campaign of violence against the Myanmar population throughout the country” as called for by the U.N. Security Council in a resolution adopted last December, Dujarric said.
“This heinous act by the terrorist military is yet another example of their indiscriminate use of extreme force against innocent civilians, constituting a war crime,” the opposition National Unity Government said in a statement. The NUG calls itself the country’s legitimate government, in opposition to the army. The office being opened Tuesday was part of its administrative network.
The military government’s spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, acknowledged in a statement phoned to state television MRTV that the ceremony had been attacked, but accused anti-government forces in the area of carrying out a violent campaign of terror. He said the People’s Defense Forces — the armed wing of the National Unity Government — had terrorized residents into supporting them, killing Buddhist monks, teachers and other people, while the military sought peace and stability. He said there was evidence the attack had set off secondary blasts of explosives hidden by the People’s Defense Forces around the site.