Air raids by Myanmar’s military on a celebratory event held by a prominent ethnic rebel group have killed dozens of people, including civilians, the rebels say.
Colonel Naw Bu told AFP news agency on Monday that “two Myanmar military jets attacked” the ceremony held by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state at about 8:40pm (14:40 GMT) on Sunday.
“Around 50 people were killed including KIA members and civilians,” he said, adding that about 70 were wounded.
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A KIA spokesman, speaking to The Associated Press by phone, put the death toll at more than 60 people, with about 100 wounded in the attack on the first day of the three-day celebration of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organisation, which included a concert.
The event was held at a base also used for military training by the KIA, the organisation’s armed wing.
The spokesman cited members of his group who were there as saying that military aircraft dropped four bombs on the celebration. Between 300 and 500 people were in attendance, and a Kachin singer and keyboard player were among the dead, said the spokesperson, who asked not to be identified because he feared punishment by the authorities, according to AP.
Those killed included Kachin officers and soldiers, musicians and jade-mining business owners and other civilians, he said. They also included at least 10 Kachin military and business VIPs sitting in front of the stage, and cooks working backstage, he said.
It was not possible to independently confirm details of the incident, but media sympathetic to the Kachin people posted videos showing what was said to be the attack’s aftermath, with splintered and flattened wooden structures.
There was no immediate comment from the army or government media in military-ruled Myanmar, which has been wracked for decades by rebellions by ethnic minorities seeking autonomy.
The United Nations office in Myanmar said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned and saddened” by reports of the air raids.
“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 to account,” it said.
Hana Young, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, expressed fear that the air raids were “part of a pattern of unlawful aerial attacks by the military, which has killed and injured civilians in areas controlled by armed groups”.
Young added: “The military has shown ruthless disregard for civilian lives in its escalating campaign against opponents. It is difficult to believe the military did not know of a significant civilian presence at the site of this attack. The military must immediately grant access to medics and humanitarian assistance to those affected by these air strikes and other civilians in need.”
Myanmar has been in political turmoil since a February 2021 military takeover, which was met with peaceful nationwide protests. After the army and police killed demonstrators opposing military rule, civilians throughout the country formed armed units as part of a People’s Defence Force to fight military rule.
According to the rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which documents killings and human rights violations in Myanmar, at least 2,370 people have been killed and more than 15,900 arrested since the coup.
The KIA has fought regularly with the military for decades, and heavy fighting also erupted in the wake of last year’s military power grab.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government in exile, established by democratically elected politicians removed from office in the coup, condemned the reported attack.