INTERVIEW: The attack on unarmed civilians in Myanmar 'is definitely a war crime'

Miemie Winn Byrd discusses the military's brutal aerial assault on residents of Pa Zi Gyi village.
By Khin Khin Ei of RFA Burmese
INTERVIEW: The attack on unarmed civilians in Myanmar 'is definitely a war crime' Retired U.S. Lt. Col. Miemie Winn Byrd in an undated photo.
Miemie Winn Byrd via Facebook

A brutal airstrike by the Myanmar military on civilians in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region a week ago has been reported by news outlets around the world. The attack on residents of Pa Zi Gyi village attending the opening ceremony for a public administration building killed an estimated 200 people, including 40 minors. 

Miemie Winn Byrd, a Honolulu-based Asia-Pacific security analyst and retired Burmese-American lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, says the aerial assault is unacceptable and a war crime because junta forces targeted civilians. Byrd spoke with RFA Burmese reporter Khin Khin Ei about what action the international community should take to try to stop the junta’s atrocities against civilians. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: Almost 200 civilians, including women and children, were killed during an aerial attack on April 11 by Myanmar junta forces as the people celebrated the opening of an administrative building in Sagaing region’s Pa Zi Gyi village. What’s your take on this?

Byrd: I must say that it’s an extremely tragic incident because those villagers were doing a charity event when the military junta air-raided them. It’s really a brutal act. It was actually a peaceful gathering. The civilians were not armed. That’s why the attack on these innocent and unarmed civilians is definitely a war crime, something completely unacceptable by any means. I strongly condemn such an atrocity. Even a small publication like the Honolulu newspaper here reported that horrible incident of the Myanmar junta on its front page. This indicates that the whole world is acknowledging this attack and condemning such brutality of the military junta. The world has become more and more aware of the junta’s cowardice atrocity. 

RFA: The junta said it attacked the crowd because the civilians were involved with the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces, but it also claimed that the aerial assault triggered further explosions because shots hit weapons and ammunition stored on the ground. What do you make of this explanation?

Byrd: They simply don’t have the evidence to back their claim. The claim that weapons and ammunition were stored there is just a lame excuse of the military junta. Attacking the peaceful gathering of innocent civilians, like I said earlier, is a very wrong act already. And it is evident that they had deliberately targeted the civilians. The more brutality the junta uses to oppress, the more bitter the people feel towards them. Myanmar people will never accept them, as a consequence. It’s a negative result for the military council. I think they know that they are in a bad situation. That’s why they have committed such brutal crimes as their last straw. Since they are used to such brutal strategies, we can say that their administration is losing strength.

RFA: Have there been any similar such incidents involving international military organizations?

Byrd: Well, when we plan a military operation, we always have to consider the collateral damage. If there is any civilian presence near the target, we do not go forward with the operation because although the plan may be tactically successful in the short term, we will receive the bitterness of the people in the long run. As I have always said, a war is not won by means of superior firepower. It is won only with the support of the people and by means of politics. That’s why what the Myanmar military is doing appears to me that they do not understand the way of war. They understand the tactical level, but they don’t know the strategic level to win a war. That’s why their strategies always go backwards from what we have learned.

RFA: How many military organizations around the world are carrying out horrendous activities like those of the Myanmar junta? Are there ways to stop them from committing such atrocities?

Byrd: There are some militaries in Syria like them. The North Koreans may be acting similarly, too, but we don’t know for sure as we cannot infiltrate the interior of North Korean affairs. But it can be concluded that only the bad guys commit such brutal crimes. The countries where the people love and respect the government and the developed countries do not have such atrocious militaries. The more the Myanmar military oppresses the people in such brutal tactics, the more deteriorated the country becomes and the lower its economy declines to a point of never coming back to progress. The children and the Myanmar people will lose their opportunities to be able to go abroad and learn in international countries, something they used to have before. These will never be possible for them again. The economy will decline. Since they do not have the support of the people, they won’t be able to develop the country.

RFA: The junta chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, has said he will crush the armed anti-regime forces and ethnic armed groups supporting them. How much will he accomplish in doing so?

Byrd: If they could totally crush resistance forces by using their military strength like he said, there would not be any ethnic armed groups left by now, right? They haven’t been able to do that for over 70 years. The situation has worsened for them as 90% of the whole country is resisting them in addition to the ethnic armed groups. It doesn’t matter what he said; his administration is losing strength. It’s questionable whether he could accomplish what he claimed.

RFA: How do you evaluate the situation of Myanmar in terms of eradicating the military dictatorship?

Byrd: I think the military is aiming to use superior firepower to solve the crisis, but it is actually a political problem. Since it’s a political problem, the trust and support of the people play a major role. They won’t be able to cope with the crisis because 90% of the people are opposing them.

RFA: What should the international community do to take effective action against the Myanmar military?

Byrd: Well, the military junta is already under a lot of international pressure. They have been being taken into action at the International Court of Justice, and sanctions and embargoes have been imposed against them. The junta has just little freedom left. The more atrocities the junta commits, the more international support the resistance forces receive. Like I said, the Burma Act was sped up when the news of the execution of political activists such as Ko Jimmy and Zayar Thaw spread around the world. The more brutally they act, the clearer the international community sees their atrocities and the more support they give to the people and the resistance groups.

RFA: What are the necessary components for the success of the people’s Spring Revolution, the protests that began in early 2021 in opposition to the military’s coup d'état on Feb. 1, 2021?

Byrd: The most important thing is for the people to be able to cooperate in the resistance. The more united the revolution the people have become, the faster the success will be. The people will have to cooperate and defy the military junta in any way possible.

Translated by Myo Min Aung for RFA Burmese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.


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