Up to 100 people have been killed after military jets hit a town in Myanmar: NPR

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This photo provided by the Kyunhla Activist Group shows the aftermath of an airstrike in Pazigyi village in Kanbalu township in Sagaing Province, Myanmar, on Tuesday.

Kyunhla Activist Group via AP

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Kyunhla Activist Group via AP

This photo provided by the Kyunhla Activist Group shows the aftermath of an airstrike in Pazigyi village in Kanbalu township in Sagaing Province, Myanmar, on Tuesday.

Kyunhla Activist Group via AP

BANGKOK – Airstrikes by the Myanmar military on Tuesday killed up to 100 people, including many children, who were attending a ceremony held by opponents of military rule, a witness, a member of a local group for democracy and the media, said. independent.

The military is increasingly using airstrikes to combat 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. It is estimated that more than 3,000 civilians 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 gathering at 8 a.m. for the opening of a local office of the country’s opposition movement outside Pazigyi village in Kanbalu town in Sagaing area. 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 shot at the site, said the witness, who asked not to be identified because he was afraid of punishment from the authorities.

Initial reports put the death toll at around 50, but reports by independent media raised it to around 100. Details of the incident could not be independently verified as reports restricted by the military government.

“I was standing a short distance from the crowd when a friend of mine called me on the phone about the approach of a fighter jet,” said the witness. “The jet dropped bombs directly on the crowd , and I jumped into a nearby ditch and hid. A few minutes later, when I stood up and looked around, I saw people cut to pieces and dead in the smoke. The office building was destroyed. About 30 people were injured. While the wounded were being carried, a helicopter came and shot more people. We are now burning 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 locally formed armed anti-government groups and other opposition groups.

The United Nations strongly condemned the attack by Myanmar’s armed forces and said those responsible must be brought to justice, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, stressing that those injured must receive medical treatment. , which is “often a challenge in these situations”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “condemns all forms of violence and reaffirms the priority of protecting civilians, in accordance with international humanitarian law and reiterates his call for the military to end the campaign violence against the people of Myanmar throughout the country” as mentioned. for by the UN Security Council in a resolution adopted last December, said Dujarric.

“This heinous act by the rebel army is another example of their indiscriminate use of extreme force against innocent civilians, constituting a war crime,” the Government of National Unity said in a statement. The office was which was opening on Tuesday as part of their administrative network.

The spokesman of the military government, the Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, in a statement sent to state television MRTV that the ceremony was attacked, but accused anti-government forces in the area of ​​carrying out a violent campaign against terrorism. He said the People’s Defense Forces – the armed wing of the National Unity Government – had intimidated residents into supporting them, killing Buddhist monks, teachers and others, while the military seek peace and stability. He said there was evidence that the attack had secondary explosions of explosives hidden by the People’s Defense Forces around the site.

NGOs have collected evidence of large-scale human rights abuses by the military

In response to allegations of abuses, the military government often accuses terrorist forces of anti-democracy. But analysts for the United Nations and non-governmental organizations have gathered credible evidence of large-scale human rights abuses by the military, including the burning of entire towns and the displacement of over a million people, cause a humanitarian crisis.

The death toll from Tuesday’s airstrike, if confirmed, could be the highest in more than two years of civil conflict that began when the army seized power in 2021. Up to 80 people were killed killed last October in another government airstrike in northern Myanmar on the anniversary celebration of the main political group of the Kachin ethnic minority, which is also fighting the military government.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since a military takeover sparked popular opposition. After peaceful demonstrations were put down by lethal force, many opponents of the military rule took up arms, and large parts of the country are now embroiled in conflict.

The army has been carrying out major offensives in the country, where it has faced some of the toughest in Sagaing, in the historical region of Myanmar. The defense forces have no defense against air attacks.

In videos of the devastated city seen by AP, survivors and onlookers tumble through the area of ​​the attack amid clouds of thick smoke, with only the skeletal frame of one building still standing in the distance. The videos could not be immediately verified but matched other descriptions of the scene.

Some motorcycles remained intact while others were reduced to their frames or buried under tree branches. In one area, two victims were lying close to each other, one of whom had only one arm left.

Another victim lay face down in a small garden by the side of the road. A few meters (yards) away, a small torso missing at least one member was visible.

In January, Myanmar’s supreme leader told the military that it must take decisive action against those who oppose military rule. Major General Min Aung Hlaing said at a military parade on Armed Forces Day that those who criticized his government showed indifference to violence committed by his opponents.

The opposition forces have been able to prevent the army from taking firm control of large areas of the country, but they are at a significant disadvantage in weapons, especially in resisting attacks. air

Critics of the military government advocate banning or restricting the sale of jet fuel to Myanmar to reduce the military’s advantage in air power. Many Western countries have imposed arms embargoes on the military government, and the United States and Britain recently implemented new sanctions targeting individuals and companies involved in supply of jet fuel to Myanmar.

The human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement on Tuesday that “The incessant airstrikes across Myanmar highlight the urgent need to stop the importation of jet fuel. of the Myanmar Air Force.”

He also urged the UN Security Council to “take effective action to hold Myanmar’s military accountable, including by referring the country’s situation to the International Criminal Court.”

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