Myanmar military airstrike kills 53 in Sagaing region

Under Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar has bought Russian weaponry including MiG-29 jet fighters and the Pantsir-S1 missile system. (Nikkei montage/Source photos by Reuters)

At least 53 people have been killed, according to survivors, in one of the deadliest airstrikes by the Myanmar military in the ongoing civil war. They say that the dead include at least 15 women and a number of children.

The attack targeted forces opposed to the military government in the village of Pa Zi Gyi, in Sagaing region.

The military has increasingly used JF-17 and Su-30SME fighter jets to carry out air strikes to crush the resistance since they seized power in February 2021.

Communities in Sagaing have put up some of the strongest opposition to military rule in Myanmar, forming their own militias and running their own schools and clinics.

One villager told the BBC that a military jet had flown over at around 7:00am and dropped a bomb, followed by a helicopter gunship which strafed the village for twenty minutes.

Residents uploaded video showing dismembered bodies lying on the ground and several buildings on fire. “Please call out if you are still alive, we are coming to help you,” they shouted as they walked through scenes of appalling carnage in Pa Zi Gyi. In the background wooden buildings burn or smoulder. They try to count the bodies – but many are in pieces, scattered among shredded clothing and burned motorbikes.

Pa Zi Gyi had been packed with people from nearby communities attending a ceremony to mark the opening of a new People’s Defence Forces (PDF) office.

The PDFs are a loose network of anti-coup militias opposing the military in various parts of Myanmar.

Thousands have so far been killed in the civil war, with an additional 1.4 million displaced. Nearly a third of the country’s population is also in need of aid, according to the United Nations.

Frustrated by the failure of its troops to regain control of much of the country, the military has been increasingly using its Russian and Chinese aircraft to bomb opposition villages, causing many civilian casualties.

There were at least 600 air attacks by the military between February 2021 and January 2023, according to a BBC analysis of data from the conflict-monitoring group Acled (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project).

The exiled National Unity Government, which was set up after the coup, says that these attacks killed 155 civilians between October 2021 and September 2022.

In October, at least 50 people were killed after the military dropped three bombs on a concert organised by an ethnic insurgent group in Kachin state. In the previous month, an airstrike on the village of Let Yet Kone in central Myanmar killed at least five children and injured several others.

If the death toll at Pa Zi Gyi is confirmed, it may be one of the deadliest single incidents so far in the civil war.

Last month, General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military government, said the regime would deal decisively with what he described as “acts of terror” by armed resistance groups.

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