Two other children die from army shelling in Rakhine state

While civilians continue to die at the hands of Myanmar’s military, fighting with the Arakan Army goes on. A deserter explains why the attack against the monastic school was deliberate, leaving 11 children dead, which Pope Francis spoke about yesterday.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Two more children were killed as a result of mortar shelling by government forces in Rakhine State; this follows a similar attack on a Buddhist school in Sagaing two weeks ago that left scores dead.

Reacting to the violence yesterday, Pope Francis launched an appeal, bitterly saying that: “it might be fashionable to attack schools,” but the cries of children should “not go unheard; such tragedies ought not to happen.”

Yet the tragedy goes for the people of Myanmar. The military, which seized power last year ousting the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, made itself responsible for the death of two seven-year-old children, in separate incidents.

A Muslim boy died last week on the border with Bangladesh from a mortar shell, while another was killed yesterday when the Kyauktaw command base shelled civilians.

According to Thomas Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, the civil war has killed and injured 382 children so far. More than 1,400 have been incarcerated and an estimated 142 have been tortured.

A helicopter pilot who defected revealed that the military deliberately carried out the airstrike against the monastic school in Let Yet Kone, a village in the central region of Sagaing, which left at least 11 pupils and five adults dead, plus scores more wounded.

According to Captain Zay Thu Aung, who deserted right after the February 2021 coup, Mi-35 helicopters that hit the school must have flown no higher than 300-400 metres.

Since the school was surrounded by fields, “There is no reason that they [the pilots] wouldn’t see the children below them,” he said.

A teacher said that at the time of the attack the children were out in the yard playing and by the time they sought shelter a rocket had already exploded.

Mi-35s are usually used to support infantry, but the Myanmar army is using them against pockets of resistance in the central areas of the country, despite the presence of many civilians.

Usually, right after the Mi-35 helicopters make their surprise attacks, Mi-17 choppers are sent in to drop junta soldiers into the target area. However, they do not do this in Chin and Kayah states, because they are “controlled by ethnic armed organizations,” Captain Zay Thu Aung explained.

The military is concerned that if soldiers are dropped by helicopters, they “won’t be able to survive on the ground in those areas”.

Fighting between the military and resistance forces has recently  spread to western Rakhine State, which is controlled by the Arakan Army (AA).

The government and the AA sides had signed a truce in November 2020 after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy came to power in an election.

The junta lost at least 36 bases and outposts to the Arakan Army, The Irrawaddy reported.