Witnesses: Myanmar air attack kills 13, including 7 children

Government helicopters have attacked a school and village in north-central Myanmar, killing at least 13 people including seven children, a school administrator and a development worker said Monday.

Military government attacks on pro-democracy insurgents and their allies often result in civilian casualties. However, the number of children killed in last Friday’s airstrike in Tabayin township in the Sagaing region appears to be the highest since the army seized power in February last year and ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The takeover by the army sparked mass non-violent protests across the country. The military and police responded with deadly force, leading to the spread of armed resistance in the cities and countryside. Fighting has been particularly fierce in Sagaing, where the military has launched multiple offensives and in some cases burned villages, displacing more than half a million people, according to a report released by UNICEF this month.

A damaged roof and a broken wooden ceiling (photo by AP)

Friday’s attack occurred in the village of Let Yet Kone in Tabayin, also known as Depayin, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city.

School administrator Mar Mar said she was trying to get students to safe hiding spots in ground-floor classrooms when two of four Mi-35 helicopters hovering north of the village began attacking the school, firing machine guns and heavier weapons linked to the Buddhist compound monastery of the village. Mar Mar works at the school with 20 volunteers teaching 240 students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

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She has been hiding in the village with her three children since fleeing to safety to avoid government crackdowns after taking part in a civil disobedience movement against the military takeover last year. Under the pseudonym Mar Mar, she protects herself and her family from the military. She said she didn’t expect any problems as the plane had previously flown over the village without incident.

“Since the students had done nothing wrong, I never thought they would be brutally shot by machine guns,” Mar Mar told The Associated Press by phone Monday. By the time she and the students and teachers were able to find shelter in the classrooms, a teacher and a 7-year-old student had already been shot in the neck and head, and Mar Mar was forced to use clothing to try and stop the bleeding.

The United Nations has documented 260 attacks on schools and educational staff since the coup, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said in June. (AP photo)

“They fired into the compound from the air for an hour,” Mar Mar said. “They didn’t even stop for a minute. All we could do back then was chant Buddhist mantras.” When the airstrike stopped, about 80 soldiers entered the monastery grounds and fired their guns at the buildings. The soldiers then ordered everyone on the premises to evacuate the buildings.

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Mar Mar said she saw about 30 students with wounds on their backs, thighs, faces and other parts of their bodies. Some students had lost limbs. “The kids told me their friends were dying,” she said. “I also heard a student yell, ‘It hurts so much. I can not stand it anymore. Kill me please.’ That voice still rings in my ears,” said Mar Mar. She said at least six students were killed at the school and a 13-year-old boy who worked in a fishery in a nearby village was also fatally shot.

At least six adults were also killed in the airstrike in other parts of the village, she said. The bodies of the dead children were taken away by the soldiers.

More than 20 people, including nine wounded children and three teachers, were also taken away by the soldiers, she said. Two of those arrested were accused of being members of the anti-government People’s Defense Force, the armed wing of the anti-military resistance.

Security forces also burned down a house in the village, prompting residents to flee.

A volunteer in Tabayin, who assisted displaced people who asked not to be identified for fear of government reprisals, said the bodies of the dead children were cremated by the soldiers in the nearby Ye U community.

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“I am telling this to the international community now because I want redress for our children,” Mar Mar said. “Instead of humanitarian aid, what we really need is real democracy and human rights.”

Myanmar Now, an online news service, and other independent Myanmar media also reported the attack and the deaths of the students.

A day after the attack, state-run newspaper Myanma Alinn reported that security forces checked the village after receiving information that members of the People’s Defense Forces were hiding there. According to the report, members of the People’s Defense Forces and their allies from the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic rebel group, hid in houses and the monastery and started firing at the security forces, causing deaths and injuries among villagers. The injured were taken to hospitals, but did not mention the situation of the students.

At least 2,298 civilians have been killed by security forces since the army seized power last year, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors human rights in Myanmar. The United Nations has documented 260 attacks on schools and educational staff since the coup, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said in June.

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