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Myanmar: 29 killed, including children after alleged airstrike by military at displacement camp

Myanmar military has been embroiled in a conflict with ethnic rebel armies since the coup in 2021. It has launched several airstrikes against guerrilla forces and rebel fighters that have claimed the lives of many citizens.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar) Published on: October 10, 2023 18:39 IST
Myanmar military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi's government in
Image Source : AP Myanmar military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi's government in a coup in 2021.

Myanmar military has been accused of launching a devastating airstrike at a camp for displaced persons in the Kachin state on late Monday, which claimed the lives of almost 30 people, including close to a dozen children, according to militants, activists and local media.

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) spokesperson Colonel Naw Bu said that 29 people, including 11 children under the age of 16 were killed in the air and artillery strikes carried out by the Myanmar military. At least 57 others were injured in the attacks. The targeted area houses the headquarters of KIA.

Myanmar's main opposition group, the National Unity Government, said that a kindergarten, school, church and many civilian houses were destroyed at the camp. "This deliberate and targeted attack by the terrorist military council on civilians fleeing conflict constitutes a blatant crime against humanity and war crime," it said in a statement.

The group also accused the military of taking advantage of the international community's current attention on the Israel-Hamas war to "commit yet another crime against humanity and war crime".

Military denies attack

Major General Zaw Min Tun, the Myanmar military's spokesperson, denied responsibility for the airstrike and said that the Army is capable of attacking the headquarters of all insurgent groups in the country. 

He also said that the area where the explosions occurred may have been used to store bombs for drones and unmanned aircraft for the Kachin fighting forces. Social media posts showed dead bodies and destroyed structures in the aftermath of the apparent airstrike.

Naw Bu claimed that the army used artillery to shell an area including the camp and nearby villages where about 400 people live. The attack caught everyone by surprise as people did not hear a jet fighter, suggesting that the attack was carried out by air-to-ground missiles or an armed drone.

Myanmar's military-controlled government has ramped up airstrikes against its enemies after a coup in 2021, the pro-democracy group Peoples Defense Forces and ethnic minority guerilla groups such as Kachin that have demanded greater autonomy for decades.

The KIA has a loose alliance with the armed militias of the pro-democracy forces that were formed to fight army rule. It is one of the strongest enemies of the Myanmar junta and is reportedly capable of manufacturing some of its own armaments.

What is happening in Myanmar?

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar junta overthrew the democratically-elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and triggered widespread opposition. The military has suppressed several demonstrations with lethal force and many opponents of the new military rule have now taken up arms.

Although the military has claimed that it only targets armed guerrilla forces, evidence shows that they have targeted schools and churches that have claimed the lives of several Myanmarese civilians. 

In October last year, the military carried out airstrikes that hit a celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army, killing at least 80 people, including civilians, soldiers and artistes.

"Killing us en masse like this is a criminal act. The international community needs to know and take action. I would also like to ask the UN organizations to take action,” KIA spokesperson Naw Bu said on Tuesday.

The military government is scheduled to host an event in Naypyitaw to mark the eighth anniversary of a ceasefire agreement between the previous military-controlled government and eight ethnic rebel armies. Kachin and other larger rebel armies have refused to sign the ceasefire agreement.

(with AP inputs)

ALSO READ | Myanmar's junta sends stern message to Pakistan and China for 'unfit' JF-17 fighter jets delivery

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