BANGKOK – Government helicopters attacked a school and a village in north-central Myanmar, killing at least 13 people including seven children, a school administrator and an aid worker said on Monday.
Civilian casualties often occur in military government attacks on pro-democracy insurgents and their allies. However, the number of children killed in last Friday’s airstrike in Tabayin township, Sagaing region, appears to be the highest since the military took over in February last year. , overthrowing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military takeover sparked mass nonviolent protests across the country. The military and police responded with deadly force, leading to the spread of armed resistance in towns and countryside. The fighting has been particularly fierce in Sagaing, where the army has launched several offensives, in some cases burning down villages, which have displaced more than half a million people, according to a report published by UNICEF this month. .
Friday’s attack occurred in the village of Let Yet Kone in Tabayin, also known as Depayin, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city.
School administrator Mar Mar said she was trying to get students to safe hiding places in ground floor classrooms when two of the four Mi-35 helicopters hovered north from the village began to attack, firing machine guns and heavier weapons at the school, which is located in the compound of the village’s Buddhist monastery.
Mar Mar works at the school with 20 volunteers who teach 240 students from kindergarten to grade 8. She has been hiding in the village with her three children since fleeing for safety to avoid government repression after taking part in a civil disobedience movement against the military takeover last year. She uses the pseudonym Mar Mar to protect herself and her relatives from the military.
She said she did not expect any problems since the plane had already flown over the village without any incident.
“Since the students had done nothing wrong, I never thought they would be brutally shot down by machine guns,” Mar Mar told The Associated Press by phone Monday.
By the time she, students and teachers were able to take refuge in the classrooms, a teacher and a 7-year-old student had already been shot in the neck and head and Mar Mar had to use clothes to try to stand. the bleeding.
“They kept shooting into the compound from the air for an hour,” Mar Mar said. “They didn’t stop for even a minute. All we could do at that time was sing Buddhist mantras.”
When the air attack stopped, about 80 soldiers entered the monastery compound, firing their guns at the buildings.
The soldiers then ordered everyone in the compound out of the buildings. Mar Mar said he saw about 30 students with wounds on their backs, thighs, faces and other body parts. Some students had lost limbs.
“The kids told me their friends were dying,” she said. “I also heard a student shouting, ‘It hurts so much. I can’t take it anymore. Kill me, please.’ That voice still rings in my ears,” Mar Mar said.
She said at least six students were killed in the school and a 13-year-old boy working in a fishery in a nearby village was also shot and killed. At least six adults were also killed in the airstrike in other parts of the village, she said. The bodies of the dead children were carried away by the soldiers.
More than 20 people, including nine injured children and three teachers, were also taken away by the soldiers, she said. Two of those captured were accused of belonging to the anti-government People’s Defense Forces, the armed wing of the resistance to the army.
Security forces also set fire to a house in the village, causing residents to flee.
A Tabayin volunteer helping displaced people who asked not to be identified for fear of government reprisals said the bodies of the dead children were cremated by soldiers in nearby Ye U township.
“I am now speaking to the international community about this because I want our children to get redress,” Mar Mar said. “Instead of humanitarian aid, what we really need is real democracy. and human rights.”
Myanmar Now, an online news service, and other independent Myanmar media also reported on the attack and the death of the students.
A day after the attack, the official Myanma Alinn newspaper reported that security forces went to check on the village after receiving reports that members of the People’s Defense Forces were hiding there.
The report states that members of the People’s Defense Forces and their allies from the Kachin Independence Army, a rebellious ethnic group, hid inside houses and the monastery and began shooting at the forces of security, causing deaths and injuries among the inhabitants of the village. He said the injured had been taken to hospitals, but did not mention the situation of the students.
According to the Thailand-based Political Prisoners Assistance Association, which monitors human rights in Myanmar, at least 2,298 civilians have been killed by security forces since the military took over last year. last.
The UN has documented 260 attacks on schools and education personnel since the coup, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said in June.