Air strikes during Myanmar concert kills at least 80: Media, opposition

The air strikes were the deadliest aerial attack mounted by Myanmar’s military regime since it seized power in a coup last year. PHOTOS: SCREENGRAB FROM BURMACAMPAIGNUK/TWITTER

KACHIN - Air strikes have killed at least 80 people at a concert in Myanmar held by an ethnic minority group in conflict with the ruling military, opposition groups and media said on Monday, in an attack condemned by the United Nations and Western embassies.

Popular Burmese singer Aurali Lahpai was performing onstage in northern Myanmar on Sunday evening when three military jets flew overhead and bombed the outdoor concert.

One bomb struck near the main stage, witnesses said, killing Aurali and several other performers in the middle of a song, besides dozens of other people. 

The air strikes, which targeted the territory of ethnic Kachin rebels, were the deadliest aerial attack mounted by Myanmar’s military regime since it seized power in a coup last year, and have prompted renewed calls for a global arms embargo against the junta, as well as tougher banking sanctions and a ban on aviation fuel sales.

“They were targeting civilians, not the enemy,” said Colonel Naw Bu, a spokesman for the Kachin Independence Organisation, which has long sought autonomy for Myanmar’s northernmost Kachin state. “This is an evil act and this is a war crime. We are grieving over the deaths of our people.”

A major in the Kachin Independence Army – the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation – and other high-ranking officers were among those killed, said Col Naw Bu, who also serves as spokesman for the rebel army.

The concert was held in the village of A Nang Pa to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organisation, which has been fighting the Myanmar military for years.

Since the coup, it has joined with pro-democracy forces in their efforts and has been helping to train soldiers from the People’s Defence Force, an armed resistance group formed after the military seized power in February 2021.

Myanmar’s military defended the air strikes as a justified response to attacks in the area.

In a statement released early on Tuesday, the junta said that the site of the bombing was a Kachin army base, not a concert venue, and that it had acted in accordance with its rules of engagement, which it said were derived from four Geneva Conventions.

It also said that widespread reports of civilian deaths, including the deaths of the performers, were “rumours based on fake news, false news and extorted news”.

“As security forces, they are responsible for fighting insurgents, which is essential for regional peace and stability,” the military said in a statement posted on a military website.

It cited recent attacks on its forces by combined units of the Kachin Independence Army and the People’s Defence Force, including numerous assaults on police posts and at least 11 troop ambushes.

Myanmar’s military, which had shared power with a civilian government for a decade, seized control in a coup on Feb 1, 2021, and has waged a brutal crackdown on opponents ever since. At least 2,388 civilians have been killed and nearly 16,000 arrested, according to rights groups.

The shadow National Unity Government (NUG) accused the army of targeting civilians and called on the UN and the international community to intervene and stop “atrocities and war crimes committed by the junta”.

“We need immediate tangible action and support from the international community to hold the junta accountable,” Dr Sasa, a spokesman for the NUG – set up by opponents of the junta after the coup – said in a statement.

The NUG said the regime had launched nearly 240 air strikes against civilians, killing more than 200, before the concert bombing. Last month, the military attacked a school in the Sagaing Division, killing 14 people, including seven children, the unity government said.

The Kachin Independence Organisation announced in a statement on Tuesday that it would step up its military activities against the junta in retaliation for Sunday’s attack.

The UN in Myanmar said it was deeply concerned and saddened by reports of the attack. “What would appear to be excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians is unacceptable,” it added.

In a joint statement, heads of diplomatic missions in Myanmar, including Australia, Britain, the United States and European Union members, said the attack “underscores the military regime’s responsibility for crisis and instability... and its disregard for its obligation to protect civilians”.

The military has repeatedly lashed out at the UN for what it sees as interference in Myanmar’s internal affairs and says its operations are targeting “terrorists”.

Foreign ministers from Asean are due to meet later this week to discuss the Myanmar crisis, bloc chair Cambodia said on Sunday. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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