Six Myanmar civilians killed in junta airstrikes

Attacks force more than 20,000 refugees to flee to nearby mountains for safety.
2022.01.18
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Six Myanmar civilians killed in junta airstrikes Karenni refugees shelter in caves after air attacks by Myanmar junta forces, Jan. 18, 2022.
News Light in Karenni

Six civilians were killed this week by military airstrikes in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state that sent thousands fleeing the affected areas for safety, with one local rights group calling the attacks a crime against humanity.

Two children were among the dead following the assault by military jets on Nang Mae Khon in Demawso township on Sunday and strike against a Karenni displaced persons camp in Hpruso township late Monday, sources told RFA.

The two attacks forced around 200 residents of Hpruso’s Rakheebu Camp and 20,000 refugees from Nang Mae Khon to escape to nearby mountains, sources said.

“We are planning to flee to the mountain pass, too, as we are not sure when the military may attack again,” said one local woman now sheltering in the western part of Hpruso after escaping from her home.

“We will escape death if our fate allows. If not, we’ll be killed.

“There are 90-year-old men and women among us in our group, and it is very difficult for us to move safely when these elderly people are relying on us to help them escape the attacks,” the woman added, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Residents of the Rakheebu Camp were mostly villagers who had already fled an earlier army massacre in Moso village on Dec. 24, sources said.

“They were all very frightened,” said an aid worker in western Hpruso, where refugees were gathering. “They did not dare to sleep in their homes at night. They were all hiding in the forests. The whole village of Rakheebu has fled, and there’s no one left.”

The attack by Myanmar’s military on civilian targets was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention provisions against war crimes, said Aung Myo Min, minister of human rights for the National Unity Government set up to oppose Myanmar’s military rulers, who overthrew the country’s elected civilian government on Feb. 1, 2021.

“There was no need for airstrikes in these areas, as there were no major battles,” he said. “And even if they have to call in airstrikes, they must issue warnings ahead of time so that civilians aren’t harmed. But that is not what happened here.”

Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council said on Sunday that it had launched airstrikes in the area after receiving reports that People’s Defense Force militias had gathered in Nang Mae Khon to attack government positions in the state capital Loikaw.

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen Zaw Min Tun said that PDF fighters had struck against Myanmar troops in Loikaw by gathering outside the town and attacking from two or three different places at once. “So our forces needed aerial assistance to hit them back,” he said.

“We used aircraft and helicopters, though, and we didn’t drop any bombs. Only rockets and other appropriate weapons were used,” he said.

The camps identified as refugee camps were actually PDF camps, he said.

The junta attacks on the refugee camps at Hpruso were a deliberate move to stop refugees from living there, said Ko Bayna, director of the Karenni Human Rights Group.

“This was not an accidental shooting. It is a crime against humanity to intentionally kill people and cause fear and panic. This was aimed at stopping people from living in this area,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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