At least six children were killed and 17 injured when army helicopters fired on a school in Myanmar, media reports and local residents said on Monday, as the military said it opened fire because rebels were using the building to attack their forces.
Violence has plagued Myanmar since the army toppled an elected government early last year. In the meantime, opposition movements, some of them armed, have sprung up across the country, which the military is countering with deadly force.
Reuters They have not been able to independently verify details of the violence that took place in Let Yet Kone village in the central Sagaing region on Friday.
According to reports from the news portals Mizzima and Irrawaddy, army helicopters opened fire on the school, which was housed in a Buddhist monastery in the village. Some children were killed instantly by the gunfire, while others died after troops entered the village, the reports said.
Two local residents, who declined to be identified for security reasons, said by phone the bodies were later transported by the military to a community seven miles away and buried there.
Images posted to social media appeared to show damage, including bullet holes and bloodstains, in a school building.
In a statement, the military said the Kachin Independence Army, a rebel group, and the People’s Defense Force (PDF), an umbrella organization of armed guerrillas the junta calls “terrorists,” were hiding in the monastery and using the village to hold weapons in the transport area.
Security forces sent by helicopter carried out “a surprise inspection” and were attacked by PDF and the KIA in houses and the monastery, it said.
It said the security forces responded, saying some villagers were killed in the clash and the wounded were taken to public hospitals for treatment. The statement accused the armed groups of using villagers as human shields and said weapons, including 16 hand-made bombs, were later confiscated.
In a statement following Friday’s violence, Myanmar’s pro-democracy shadow government, known as the Government of National Unity (NUG), accused the junta of “targeted attacks” on schools.
The NUG also called for the release of 20 students and teachers they said were arrested after the airstrikes.
According to Save the Children, an NGO, documented violent attacks on schools in Myanmar rose from 10 the year before to about 190 in 2021.
The use of schools as bases by both the military and armed groups is also increasing across the country, the organization said in a report this month, disrupting education and putting children at risk.