A high-ranking United Nations official says he is “horrified” by reports that at least 35 civilians have been killed and their bodies burned in eastern Myanmar, demanding the government launch a “thorough and transparent investigation”.
Two workers for non-profit group Save the Children remained missing after their vehicle was among several that were attacked and burned in the incident in Kaya state.
A monitoring group and local media have blamed the attack on troops.
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“I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said in a statement on Sunday.
I am horrified by reports that 35 civilians were killed in Kayah State, #Myanmar on 24 Dec.
Two @save_children humanitarian workers also remain missing.
I condemn all attacks against civilians and call on authorities to investigate.
My statement: https://t.co/2s7BoeOGwA
— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief) December 26, 2021
“I call upon the authorities to immediately commence a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident so that perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice,” said Griffiths.
“Moreover, I call upon the Myanmar Armed Forces and all armed groups in Myanmar to take all measures to protect civilians from harm,” he added.
The United States embassy in Myanmar on Sunday said it was appalled by the “barbaric attack in Kayah state that killed at least 35 civilians, including women and children”.
“We will continue to press for accountability for the perpetrators of the ongoing campaign of violence against the people of Burma,” it said in a statement posted on social media.
We are appalled by this barbaric attack in Kayah state that killed at least 35 civilians, including women and children. We will continue to press for accountability for the perpetrators of the ongoing campaign of violence against the people of Burma. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar https://t.co/Qz1eytOWGL
— U.S. Embassy Burma (@USEmbassyBurma) December 26, 2021
Myanmar has been in political chaos since the military overthrew the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February, alleging fraud in an election her party had won.
More than 1,300 people have been killed in a crackdown by security forces, according to a local monitoring group.
Groups called “People’s Defence Forces” (PDF) have sprung up across the country to fight the military government, and have drawn the troops into a bloody stalemate of clashes and reprisals.
On Saturday, photos appeared on social media purporting to show two burned-out trucks and a car on a highway in Hpruso township in Kayah state, with the charred remains of bodies inside.
A member of a local PDF group on Saturday morning said its fighters had found the vehicles after hearing the military had stopped several vehicles in Hpruso after clashes with its fighters nearby on Friday.
“When we went to check in the area this morning, we found dead bodies burnt in two trucks. We found 27 dead bodies,” he told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity on Saturday.
“We found 27 skulls,” said another witness who did not want to be named, and who said there were other dead bodies that could not be counted.
Save the Children said later on Saturday that two of its Myanmar staff had been “caught up” in the incident and were missing.
The two were travelling home after carrying out humanitarian work in the region, the charity said in a statement, adding it had since suspended its work in several regions.
Myanmar’s military previously said its troops had been attacked in Hpruso on Friday after attempting to stop seven cars driving in a “suspicious way”.
Troops had killed a number of people in the following clash, spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP, without giving details.
The Myanmar Witness monitor said it had confirmed local media reports and witness accounts from local fighters “that 35 people including children and women were burnt and killed by the military on 24th December Hpruso township”.
Satellite data also showed a fire had occurred about 1:00pm (06:30 GMT) on Friday in Hpruso, it added.
AFP said it was unable to confirm the reports surrounding the clash, but its digital verification reporters said the images purporting to show the incident had not appeared online before Friday evening.
PDF groups have surprised the army with their effectiveness, analysts have said, as the military struggles to break resistance to its rule.