Myanmar air strike deaths reach at least 170
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Myanmar air strike deaths reach at least 170

Junta chief makes Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential’ list for all the wrong reasons

Members of the Tatmadaw patrol in Yangon on Thursday, the first day of the Thingyan water festival. Many people are refusing to take part in celebrations this year in protest against the military junta. (Photo: AFP)
Members of the Tatmadaw patrol in Yangon on Thursday, the first day of the Thingyan water festival. Many people are refusing to take part in celebrations this year in protest against the military junta. (Photo: AFP)

The death toll from an air strike on a village in central Myanmar has risen to at least 170, according to a person involved in cremating bodies and local media reports.

The attack on Tuesday morning all but wiped out the village of Pa Zi Gyi in the Sagaing region, where forces opposed to the military junta control significant amounts of territory.

Dozens of local residents had gathered to mark the opening of a new administrative centre built with help from the People’s Defence Force (PDF), an anti-junta militia group. 

Military authorities confirmed they had carried out an operation in the area against “terrorists” — their term for anyone who opposes the regime. They said the large number of casualties was the result of a rebel weapons cache exploding, and that PDF fighters used civilians as human shields.

Rescue workers disputed that account, noting the deliberate and thorough nature of the attack. It began with a jet fighter dropping bombs, followed by an Mi-35 helicopter strafing the area and gunning down dozens.

A villager involved in cremating the bodies, who asked not to be identified to protect his safety, said on Friday that his team had revised its death count up to 171 from 130 a day earlier.

He told AFP that 109 men, 24 women and 38 children were killed. Another 53 wounded were receiving medical care, he said.

The National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow body dominated by former lawmakers from the civilian government overthrown in the February 2021 military coup, released a chart on Friday showing a total of 168 fatalities.

Ghost town

Meanwhile, Pa Zi Gyi has become a ghost town, as more than 800 residents of the 100-home village have fled and are too frightened to return while the threat of another raid looms, local resident Ko Myo told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“We have brought in some car tyres [to build pyres],” he said on Thursday. “We’ve had to [cremate] urgently, as the military’s planes are still flying around. We have to collect as many bodies as possible and cremate them before we leave.”

Rescue worker Nway Oo told RFA Burmese that workers were struggling to comb through unidentified remains amid the ongoing threat of a military attack.

“The gender of some of the bodies cannot be determined,” Nway Oo said. “Some of their bodies were too disfigured to even identify whether they were male or female.”

Myanmar has been in crisis since the military toppled the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi two years ago, with an estimated 3,200 civilians killed as part of the regime’s crackdown on dissent.

This week’s attack, which came on the eve of Thingyan, the traditional water festival, drew international outrage.

The United Kingdom, Myanmar’s former colonial ruler, has called for the United Nations Security Council to meet to discuss the incident.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which has led so-far fruitless diplomatic efforts to resolve the Myanmar crisis, strongly condemned the air strikes on Thursday.

“All forms of violence must end immediately, particularly the use of force against civilians,” Asean chair Indonesia said in a statement.

“Any attack on civilians is reprehensible and cannot be condoned,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a separate statement on Twitter.

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not commented on the event. (Story continues below)

In an image taken by a local citizen journalist and forwarded to Myanmar Now, local residents and defence group members cremate bodies in Pa Zi Gyi on the morning of April 13, two days after the site was targeted in a military airstrike.

Fierce resistance

The Sagaing region is a rebel stronghold near Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city. It has put up some of the fiercest resistance to the military’s rule, with intense fighting raging for months.

The junta confirmed on Wednesday that it had launched “limited” air strikes in the area and blamed some of the deaths on mines planted by anti-junta fighters.

It also said on Friday that rebels had dropped four bombs from a drone that killed eight people, including five children, and wounded 31 others at Kywe Pon village, also in the Sagaing region.

In a related development, opponents of the junta have reacted with outrage to the decision by Time magazine to include coup leader Min Aung Hlaing on its latest list of the 100 Most Influential people in the world.

Most of those chosen for the annual distinction tend to be political figures, activists and celebrities known for their positive impact, though people with especially malign influence, such as Kim Jong Un of North Korea, have also been picked.

Min Aung Hlaing fits the latter description, as the text accompanying his picture makes clear: “Min Aung Hlaing has returned Myanmar to a pariah state and made it the world’s second most authoritarian regime, per the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2022 Democracy Index. Only Taliban-ruled Afghanistan ranked worse.”

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