Ethnic group says Myanmar airstrike left 80 dead at celebration

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BANGKOK (AP) — Airstrikes by the Myanmar military have killed up to 80 people, including singers and musicians, during a celebration of the anniversary of the main political organization of the Kachin ethnic minority, said group members and a rescuer on Monday.

The reported attack comes three days before Southeast Asian foreign ministers are due to hold a special meeting in Indonesia to discuss worsening violence in Myanmar.

The death toll at Sunday night’s celebration, organized by the Kachin Independence Organization in northern Kachin State, appears to be the highest in a single airstrike since the army took power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Initial reports put the death toll at around 60, but later counts put it at around 80.

It was impossible to independently confirm the details of the incident, although pro-Kachin media released videos showing what would have been the aftermath of the attack, with splintered and flattened wooden structures.

The Military Government Information Office confirmed in a statement late Monday that there had been an attack on what it described as the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army’s 9th Brigade, calling it of a “necessary operation” in response to the “terrorist” acts perpetrated by the Kachin. band.

He called reports of a high death toll “rumors” and denied that the military had bombed a concert and that singers and audience members were among the dead.

The United Nations office in Myanmar said in a statement it was “deeply concerned and saddened” by reports of the airstrikes.

“What would appear to be excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians is unacceptable and those responsible must be held accountable,” he said.

Emissaries representing Western embassies in Myanmar, including the United States, issued a joint statement saying the attack underscores the military regime’s “disregard for its obligation to protect civilians and uphold the principles and rules of law.” international humanitarian organization”.

Myanmar has been ravaged for decades by ethnic minority rebellions seeking autonomy, but anti-government resistance has grown dramatically across the country with the formation of an armed pro-democracy movement opposing the takeover. military control last year.

The Kachin are one of the strongest rebellious ethnic groups and are able to manufacture some of their own weaponry. They also have a loose alliance with the pro-democracy forces armed militias that formed in 2021 in central Myanmar to fight military rule.

Sunday’s celebration of the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organization, which included a concert, was held at a base also used for military training by the Kachin Independence Army, the branch KIO army. It is located near the village of Aung Bar Lay in Hpakant Township, a remote mountainous region 950 kilometers (600 miles) north of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.

Hpakant is the center of the world’s largest and most lucrative jade mining industry, from which both the government and the rebels derive revenue.

As many as 80 people were killed and around 100 were injured in Sunday’s attack on the first day of a three-day celebration of the KIO’s founding, a spokesman for the Association of Kachin artists at the Associated Press. He said he first heard that there were 60 dead, but sources close to Kachin Independence Army officials later told him that around 80 people had died.

He said military planes dropped four bombs on the celebration around 8 p.m., according to members of his group who were present. Between 300 and 500 people attended and a Kachin singer and keyboardist was among the dead, said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified because he feared punishment by authorities.

Also among those killed were Kachin officers and soldiers, musicians, owners of jade mining companies and other civilians, he said. They also included at least 10 Kachin military and business figures seated in front of the stage and cooks working behind the scenes, he added.

The Kachin News Group, a media outlet sympathetic to the KIO, reported that an initial search found 58 bodies and government security forces blocked the injured from being treated at hospitals in nearby towns. He later reported that more than 20 other bodies had been recovered, bringing the death toll to around 80.

Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman for the Kachin Independence Army, said by telephone that KIA soldiers, musicians, businessmen and villagers were among the dead, but he did not could not confirm the number of victims due to communication problems. He said the dead were a loss to all the Kachin people and his group would fly the Kachin flag at half mast.

An emergency services worker who was in Hpakant and also requested anonymity said he saw three military planes carrying out bombing raids over the celebration ground, a few kilometers (miles) away. He said the KIO barred him from entering the area, but heard that more than 60 people had been killed, including a KIA brigade commander.

The Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, a non-governmental organization that tracks killings and arrests, said on Friday that 2,377 civilians have died in a crackdown by security forces since the army took power. Its figure, however, does not always include those killed in military action in the countryside.

“We fear that this attack is part of a pattern of unlawful military airstrikes that have killed and injured civilians in areas controlled by armed groups,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director, Hana Young, in a statement.

“The military has shown a callous disregard for civilian lives in its growing campaign against opponents. It is hard to believe that the military was unaware of a large civilian presence at the site of this attack. The military must immediately grant access to doctors and humanitarian aid to those affected by these airstrikes and other civilians in need, Young said.

Cambodia, the current president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said on Sunday that foreign ministers from the group will hold a special meeting in Indonesia this week to review the peace process for Myanmar. . The Myanmar generals all but avoided the group’s previous efforts.

“As officials and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepare to hold high-level meetings in the coming weeks, this attack highlights the need to review the approach of the crisis in Myanmar,” Amnesty International said. “ASEAN must step up and formulate a more robust action plan for military leaders to end this escalating repression.

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