The death toll in the airstrikes by Myanmar Air Force followed by helicopter gun attacks and spraying of bullets on Civilians has arisen to 170 dead.
The Air and Attack Helicopter Strikes
As per pro resistance media source, Myanmar Now, the attack was launched on April 11 at a ceremony to mark the opening of a People’s Administration Team office in Pa Zi Gyi, a village located about 45km southeast of the town of Kanbalu. The office was to be established under the National Unity Government (NUG) the parallel resistance government designated as a terrorist organization by the Myanmar army.
It is reported by Myanmar Now that the first strike was followed by an Mi-35 combat helicopter which sprayed the area with gunfire.
A second strike was launched in the evening, even as locals were collecting bodies from the morning attack. The repeated air attacks on civilians were to deter the NUG from establishing administrative offices in the hinterland and was clearly a disproportionate use of force against the resistance armed with rudimentary weapons.
Military Justification of Air Strike
Myanmar’s military justified the air strike claiming that the attacks targeted the People’s Defence Force (PDF) armed resistance cadres affiliated to the NUG. The civilians were claimed to be those who had been coerced to join the gathering.
Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the military, confirming the air attacks said that “some people who were forced to support [the PDFs] died as well”. He also accused the PDF of false claims of death of civilians even though a number of locals confirmed at least 30 children were involved in the strike. “According to our ground information we hit the place of their weapons’ storage and that exploded and people died due to that,” he added.
“During that opening ceremony, we conducted the attack. PDF members were killed,” Zaw Min Tun told the military broadcaster Myawaddy. “They are the ones opposing the government of the country, the people of the country,” he said.
There was no mention of subsequent waves of attacks by helicopters and fighter strikes.
Mild Condemnation of the Attack
As per the Irrawaddy the attack was universally condemned with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling for those responsible to be held accountable.
In response to large number of civilian casualties, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which Myanmar is a member released a statement on April 13 condemning the air strike in the Sagaing Region. “All forms of violence must end immediately, particularly the use of force against civilians,” said the statement, issued by the association’s current chair Indonesia. “This would be the only way to create a conducive environment for an inclusive national dialogue to find a sustainable peaceful solution in Myanmar.”
In a weekly media briefing Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “Look, we have seen disturbing reports of violence on April 11 near Kanbalu Township in the Sagaing Region, [I think it's called] of Myanmar. As a neighbor and friend of the people of Myanmar, we have repeatedly called for cessation of violence by all sides and peaceful resolution of all issues. India reiterates its call for return of peace, stability and democracy in Myanmar”. India is concerned not to push the Myanmar military towards China even though New Delhi is the largest and most stable democracy in the region.
Myanmar’s military which heads the present State Administrative Council (SAC) has sustained the campaign against resistance forces – the PDFs claiming these to be terrorist groups. While the PDF have also been accused of attacks against the military and the militia supporting the same, the disproportionate force in this instance required a stronger response to curb the Tatmadaw in targeting innocent civilians involved in administrative activities and support to the NUG.
Observers indicate that with both sides inclined to employ violence to gain an advantage there is no immediate reconciliation in sight, what can however be ensured is restricting attacks against non combatants and innocent civilians for which greater pressure would be necessary on the Tatmadaw.
Faced with limited reaction by the international community against disporportionate violence by the Tatmadaw, the NUG and PDF will only be encouraged to acquire aerial attack platforms such as drones leading to a counter response by the military and further escalation.