The military junta that seized power in Myanmar, also known as Burma, attacked a school in the northern part of the country last year. Friday’s attack killed at least 13 people, including 11 children, when soldiers shelled the school grounds from helicopters. According to a school administrator, it is the deadliest attack on children since the junta’s return to power.
According to local residents, the military attacked the school, which was located in a Buddhist monastery in the village of Let Yet Kone in the central Sagaing region, because it was believed to be used as a base by Kachin Independence Army (PDF) rebels.
A worker at the destroyed school, nicknamed Mar Mar, said she was trying to take students to shelters when the attack began. Two of four government Mi-35 helicopters hovering over the village of Let Yet Kone opened fire, using machine guns and heavier weapons, Mar Mar said. About 240 students attend the school.
The children simply chanted Buddhist mantras
Mar Mar told the AP he didn’t expect any problems. According to her, helicopters have flown over the village before without incident. “Since the students had done nothing wrong, it did not occur to me that they might shoot them brutally with machine guns. An hour after we took cover, they fired at the compound from the air. They did not stop for a minute. All we could do at that time was chant Buddhist mantras,” Mar Mar said.
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When the airstrikes stopped, Mar Mar said, about 80 soldiers entered the monastery compound and continued to shoot at the buildings. The soldiers then ordered everyone in the compound to leave the buildings. According to her, Mar Mar saw about 30 injured students.
She also said that at least six students were killed at the school, as well as a 13-year-old boy who worked as a fisherman in a nearby village. In another part of the village, she said, at least six adults were killed.
More than 20 people, including nine injured children and three teachers, were taken away by soldiers, she said. Two of the detainees were accused of belonging to anti-government forces. Myanmar’s pro-democracy shadow government has accused the junta of “targeted attacks” on schools and called for the release of 20 detained students and teachers.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said at least 11 children were killed in the attack at the school and at least 15 children from the same school are still missing. In a statement, UNICEF called for their immediate release, adding: “Schools must be kept safe. Children must not be attacked.”
The most brutal attack on children
Military junta officials said the army was only defending itself. She said she attacked the school because an unknown group had previously fired at helicopters from the monastery compound where the school was located. The military also accused the rebels of using villagers as human shields and said weapons, including 16 hand-made bombs, were seized in subsequent searches.
Online news site Myanmar Now and other independent Myanmar media also reported the attack and the death of the students. A displaced aid volunteer in Tabajin, who did not want to be named for fear of government repression, told Myanmar Now that the bodies of the dead children were cremated by soldiers in a nearby town.
The military has carried out at least ten airstrikes in the area since late last year. Civilians are often killed in military campaigns against rebel groups and pro-democracy forces in Myanmar, but Friday’s attack appears to be the highest number of children killed since a military junta took power in a coup last February.
#Myanmar a military spokesman says it is accused of carrying out airstrikes in Sagaing that killed children, an issue politicized and timed before a UN Security Council meeting.
Instead, the army accuses resistance forces of using children as human shields
– Leong Wai Kit (@LeongWaiKitCNA) in 2022 September 20
According to the non-governmental organization “Save the Children”, in 2021 the number of recorded attacks on schools rose to 190, up from 10 last year. Both the military and insurgents across the country are using schools as bases, disrupting education and putting children at risk, according to the organization.
Armed opposition to the government intensified after a military junta overthrew the legitimate government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi last year. At that time, the army took strict measures against the rebels. Since then, the UN has recorded 260 attacks on schools and their staff.
The Thailand-based Political Prisoners’ Aid Association, which monitors human rights in Myanmar, says at least 2,298 civilians have been killed by security forces since the military took over.
Peace efforts in Myanmar are led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the country is a member. The countries have created a so-called “five-point peace plan for Myanmar”, but its implementation has not been successful so far.
“Until November at the next ASEAN summit, they need to seriously review whether the five-point peace plan is still relevant and whether it should be replaced by something better,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told Reuters.
Myanmar Peace Plan
- The violence in Myanmar must stop immediately and all parties must exercise maximum restraint.
- A constructive dialogue will be initiated between all parties involved in order to find a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.
- The ASEAN Chair’s Special Envoy, assisted by the ASEAN Secretary-General, will facilitate the dialogue process.
- ASEAN will provide humanitarian assistance through the AHA (ASEAN Humanitarian Aid Organization, ed. note).
- A special delegation will visit Myanmar to meet with all stakeholders.
“The Myanmar junta has committed atrocities over the past year and has completely disregarded its commitments to ASEAN,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The ASEAN countries that are in leadership positions – Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – should immediately change course and focus on protecting people’s rights and freedoms rather than helping the junta stay in power.”
The UN Security Council is currently considering a British-drafted resolution on Myanmar. These include demanding an end to all violence in Myanmar and calling for an immediate halt to the supply of arms to the country.
The UN would consider imposing sanctions if these demands are not met after the resolution is finally passed. It would also call on the Myanmar junta to release all political prisoners, including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and implement the ASEAN peace plan.
But the UN Security Council has long been divided over Myanmar, and diplomats say China and Russia are likely to shield the country from any drastic moves. For a Security Council resolution to pass, at least nine members must vote for it, and Russia, China, the United States, France and the United Kingdom cannot veto it.