04/12/2023, 14.28
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Hundreds of civilian deaths feared after military attacks in Sagaing

Some 80 bodies have been collected, but many more are difficult to recognise, local witnesses say. The wounded include scores of women and children celebrating the traditional Myanmar New Year. The country’s ruling junta admitted that that a jet fighter and an attack helicopter were involved. For the third time in a year, a Christian village was attacked today.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Dozens of civilians were killed yesterday by Myanmar’s military in one of the worst incidents since civil war broke out following the coup d'état of 1 February 2021.

Some witnesses said that they collected at least 80 bodies, but expect the toll to rise, perhaps up to 100, while at least 50 people were wounded.

A pro-junta media outlet reported that Deputy Information Minister Major General Zaw Min Tun acknowledged that the military was responsible for the attack.

The air force attacked Pa Zi Gyi, a village near the town of Kanbalu (Sagaing region), where  the People's Defence Forces (PDF) were opening an office.

The PDF, which was formed after the coup, is the armed wing of the exiled National Unity Government (NUG), which is made up mostly of former lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's former civilian leader who was deposed in the coup and later jailed.

Myanmar’s military junta has designated the NUG as a terrorist organisation.

Witnesses reported that the wounded include many women, seniors and children, who had come to receive food as part of the ceremony, which coincided with the start of Thingyan, the traditional Myanmar New Year.

Older villagers were in the building where the ceremony was held, while many children, some as young as two and three, were nearby.

“The jet dropped two bombs right on the crowd. Then a Mi-35 helicopter came and opened fire on them, maiming and killing a large number of civilians,” a PDF officer said.

The plane came back and attacked the people picking up the dead and wounded. Videos posted online by survivors show dismembered bodies and buildings and motorcycles on fire.

An exact death toll was hard to establish because too many bodies were unrecognisable. One resident said that there were “too many finger-size bits of body parts all over the streets," noting that one could "barely walk without stepping on them.”

“Some bodies were headless, while some heads were without bodies. There is no way to identify who the bodies belong to," the resident added.

UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk said he was "horrified" by the attack, noting reports that schoolchildren performing dances, as well as other civilians, were among the victims.

“Despite clear legal obligations for the military to protect civilians in the conduct of hostilities, there has been blatant disregard for the related rules of international law," he said in a statement.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that the military and its affiliated militias are responsible for an extremely broad range of human rights violations and abuses since 1 February 2021, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes."

Between 1 February 2021 and January 2023, Myanmar’s military junta carried out at least 600 air attacks against villages controlled by anti-coup forces in different parts of the country. Most of its planes are Russian- and Chinese-made.

Chaung Yoe, a Christian village in the Sagaing region, was attacked yesterday for the third time in just over a year. Soldiers destroyed the pews of the local church and set fire to some motorcycles while residents fled without the opportunity of taking their belongings.

In recent weeks, daily fighting has pitted regular troops against local resistance forces in the Christian majority Chin State.

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