When the Myanmar military helicopters opened fire, first-graders Phone Tay Za and his cousin, Lin Lin, rushed to take cover behind a tamarind tree in their schoolyard.
It was just after noon on September 16.
The children had been squeezing in their last few minutes of play before classes began at their school, located in the grounds of a monastery, in Let Yat Kone village in the central Sagaing region.
The gunfire from the helicopters continued for nearly an hour, according to witnesses, and at one-point Phone Tay Za decided to retrieve his bag from his classroom.
The seven-year-old reached the bag but was hit as he tried to run back.
“He called me from where he was lying in a pool of blood … ‘come and take me, I’m hurt’,” Lin Lin, who survived the attack, told the Irrawaddy news website. “I had warned him not to go get the bag.”
A teacher at the school told the Radio Free Asia broadcaster that when she saw Phone Tay Za, “his arm was missing and there were holes in his feet”.
The boy’s mother arrived at the scene soon afterwards. “He was saying over and over ‘Mother, I am in so much pain. I just want to die’,” the teacher said.
Phone Tay Za was among seven children killed in Let Yet Kone that day.
Six adults also died.
Myanmar’s military described the school as a legitimate target. Since it seized power in a coup two years ago, the military has been fighting a range of groups opposed to its rule, including ethnic armed organisations, civilian militias known as People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) and an administration of the elected politicians it removed called the National Unity Government (NUG). It said PDFs and the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who it labelled “terrorists”, were using the school building to attack its forces.
But investigators from the United Nations said the air raid could amount to a “war crime”.
According to UN figures, the Let Yet Kone raid was one among at least 670 air attacks carried out by the Myanmar military last year – a number that marks a 12-fold increase from the 54 aerial assaults recorded the year before.
Other raids include the bombing of a rebel training camp, which killed five fighters in Chin state on the Indian border in January, and an air raid on a music concert in KIA territory in October, which killed some 80 people.
A Myanmar fighter jet on a bombing mission on the Thai border in June last year, meanwhile, prompted panic in Thailand when it crossed the frontier, with officials ordering the evacuation of villages and schools in the area.
At least 460 people died in last year’s raids, according to Irrawaddy, while the two-year conflict has killed an estimated 31,022 people in total – civilians and combatants alike – according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).
The UN estimates that a further 1.1 million people have had to flee their homes, mainly because of the bombing raids.
As the toll rises, the NUG and human rights campaigners have called for a total ban on sales of jet fuel to Myanmar, even if that means the grounding of civilian flights, too. The NUG, in a statement following the bombing of the Chin rebel camp in January, called the ban “an urgent and necessary step that potentially will save thousands of lives”.
Source – Aljazeera