Airstrikes by Myanmar’s military yesterday killed at least 50 people, including small children, who were attending a ceremony held by opponents of the military junta in the center of the country.
According to The Associated Press, a fighter jet dropped bombs directly into a crowd of people who were gathering at around 8 a.m. for the opening of a local office of the country’s opposition National Unity Government (NUG) outside Pazigyi village in Sagaing Region’s Kanbalu township. The village is located about 110 kilometers north of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city.
In an emailed statement yesterday, the NUG said that at 8 a.m. local time, “junta jets and helicopters began bombing and strafing machine gun fire at a large civilian gathering in Pazigyi village of Kanbalu Township.” It added that the death toll currently stood at 53, but that “the appalling number of persons wounded is still being determined” and that “early casualty accounts are expected to rise.” Some accounts in local media put the death toll as high as 100.
In videos of the devastated village described by the AP, “survivors and onlookers stumble through the area of the attack amid clouds of thick smoke, with only the skeleton frame of one building still standing in the distance.” It added, “Another victim lay face down in a small grove by the roadside. A few meters away, a small torso missing at least one limb could be seen.”
“I stood petrified as I saw bodies that were spread on the ground,” The Irrawaddy quoted one local resident as saying. “Motorbikes were burning and the house was also completely destroyed by the bombardment. People were crying as they were looking for their relatives.”
The attack is one the deadliest air assaults to have taken place since the military coup of 2021, next to the bombing last October of a concert in Kachin State in the country’s north, which was reported to have killed at least 80 people.
More than two years after seizing power in a coup, the military junta led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has struggled to put down the national armed struggle against military rule. As a result, it has come to rely more heavily on its advantage in heavy firepower, deploying its air force against civilian targets and resistance strongholds in the north and east of the country. In a report released last month, the United Nations Human Rights Office for Myanmar said that the air force launched 301 air strikes in the second year of junta rule, up from 125 during its first year.
Sagaing Region, which sits in the northwestern quadrant of Myanmar’s previously quiescent central dry plain, has become a particular locus of anti-regime resistance, and has subsequently borne the greatest weight of repression. According to the U.N., Sagaing has seen the most killings of any state or region in Myanmar – 1,200 during the two years after the coup – and has been the most affected by arson attacks, with more than 25,500 homes razed by the military.
The junta’s increasing resort to airstrikes has led to a rising chorus of demands for foreign powers to choke off the complex and attenuated global supply chains through which the Myanmar air force obtains the aviation fuel to fund its campaign of airborne terror.
“The relentless air attacks across Myanmar highlight the urgent need to suspend the import of aviation fuel,” Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Researcher Montse Ferrer said in a statement. “Amnesty reiterates its calls on all states and businesses to stop shipments that may end up in the hands of the Myanmar Air Force. This supply chain fuels violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, and it must be disrupted in order to save lives.”
Late last year, Amnesty co-authored a report that documented how shipments from foreign firms have helped keep Myanmar’s air force in the sky, with some supplies intended for civilian use being diverted on arrival in the country.
But while Western governments have taken some steps to stem the flow of aviation fuel, including the imposition of sanctions on companies involved in its supply, the lack of international unity over Myanmar has ensured that the supplies continue to flow, with devastating consequences.