Myanmar’s military has killed 60 people, including musicians, in a devastating airstrike that targeted a concert held by a rebel faction of the country’s minority Kachin ethnic group, according to organisers and a rescue worker.
The reported attack came three days before south-east Asian foreign ministers were due to attend a special meeting in Indonesia to discuss the widening violence in the country.
It was not possible to independently confirm details of the incident, although media sympathetic to the Kachin people posted videos that showed what was said to be the attack’s aftermath, showing splintered and flattened wooden structures. Footage showed damaged motorcycles, plastic chairs and other debris scattered on the ground.
There was no immediate comment from the military or government media.
For decades, Myanmar’s minorities have sought autonomy through uprisings, but anti-government resistance has increased markedly nationwide with the formation of an armed pro-democracy movement opposed to last year’s military takeover.
Swathes of the country have been engulfed by fighting. Nearly 2,300 civilians have been killed in the crackdown on dissent and 15,000 people have been arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
Sunday’s celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) was held at a base also used for military training by its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). It is located near Aung Bar Lay village in Hpakant township, a remote mountainous area 600 miles (965km) north of Yangon.
A spokesperson for the Kachin Artists’ Association told the Associated Press that, according to its members who performed at the celebrations, military aircraft dropped bombs at about 8pm. Between 300 and 500 people were in attendance and a Kachin singer and keyboard player were among the dead, said the spokesperson, who asked not to be identified because of fears of reprisals by the authorities.
Those killed also included KIA troops, cooks, jade mining business owners and other civilians, the spokesperson said, adding that at least 10 Kachin military and business VIPs were among the dead.
The Kachin News Group, a media outlet sympathetic to the KIO, reported the same number of casualties and said government security forces blocked the wounded from being treated at hospitals in nearby towns.
The UN office in Myanmar said it was “deeply concerned and saddened by reports of airstrikes” while Amnesty International warned that the strike showed a pattern of escalating repression by the government.
“The military has shown ruthless disregard for civilian lives in its escalating campaign against opponents. It is difficult to believe the military did not know of a significant civilian presence at the site of this attack,” said Hana Young, Amnesty’s deputy regional director.
“We fear this attack is part of a pattern of unlawful aerial attacks by the military which have killed and injured civilians in areas controlled by armed groups,” Young added. “The military must immediately grant access to medics and humanitarian assistance to those affected by these airstrikes and other civilians in need.”
Amnesty has accused the junta of committing widespread atrocities since the 2021 coup, including unlawfully killing, arbitrarily detaining, torturing and forcibly displacing civilians. “It has been able to carry out these crimes in the face of an ineffective international response to a human rights crisis that is only worsening,” Young said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) foreign ministers meeting this week is seeking to resolve the crisis, but the bloc has failed to make meaningful progress so far. Last month, an airstrike in the Sagaing region in the country’s north-west killed at least 11 schoolchildren and two others, according to the United Nations.
The office of UN secretary general, António Guterres, strongly condemned the attack and offered his condolences to the victims’ families.
Such attacks on schools in contravention of international humanitarian law constitute “grave violations against children in times of armed conflict strongly condemned by the security council”, said Guterres’ spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, calling for the perpetrators to be held accountable.
Video footage obtained from a local community group showed a classroom with blood on the floor, damage to the roof and a mother crying over her son’s body.
The junta claimed the deadly attack was targeting rebels hiding in the area, which has experienced some of the fiercest fighting and clashes between anti-coup fighters and the military.
Source: The Guardian