A Nang Pa airstrike fatalities expected to rise as Myanmar military blocks victims’ access to medical care

Days after the junta’s bombing of a Kachin State music festival that killed dozens of people and wounded at least 100 more, the Myanmar army continues to block roads connecting the targeted area to the town of Hpakant as well as access to medical treatment for the injured victims, according to local first responders.

On Sunday night, military jets—presumably Yak-130 models—dropped three bombs on a concert, causing 62 casualties, according to the most recent count issued by the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). The event, held at the A Nang Pa rest stop 20 miles north of Hpakant, was held in commemoration of the KIO’s 62nd anniversary. 

Several rescue workers spoke to Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity on Wednesday, citing concerns for their safety after the military threatened to issue criminal charges against those attempting to access A Nang Pa. They explained that troops at junta checkpoints at the Kan Hsee (Ginsi) and Aung Bar Lay military outposts—two and four miles, respectively, from A Nang Pa—were searching motorcyclists and not letting cars pass in or out of the area. 

“People will only be able to get to Hpakant or Myitkyina [the state capital] if they can pass through the Kan Hsee checkpoint, which was overtaken by the junta forces last year,” a local activist explained. “The military is still occupying that area and is not letting the victims pass,” she said.

A volunteer with one of the Hpakant-based first response teams trying to send medical supplies to the victims said that the military was blocking that, too. 

“We don’t have enough medicine, and even if we did, we couldn’t send it to the victims as they are not letting any vehicles through,” he said. “The number of fatalities will actually rise if this continues. There are some victims who are bleeding out and some with injuries to the head, stomach or thighs. It’s like they were injured the way soldiers are injured in battle.”

Citing accounts from other first responders working at A Nang Pa, a second rescue worker in Hpakant said that the death toll among the injured was rising daily due to the lack of proper treatment available.

He said that the rescue groups have been negotiating with the military’s tactical commander in Hpakant to allow injured victims pass the checkpoints so that they can be taken to the hospital. The commander reportedly denied the request, citing a direct order from Naypyitaw.

“He just told us to try to understand that they are working according to orders issued from Naypyitaw,” the rescue worker said.

“More fully-armed troops have been stationed in Kan Hsee. They said they will shoot anyone who opposes the order as an enemy and that they won’t care whether it’s a woman or man or child, or whether they are armed or unarmed.” 

Map of A Nang Pa

A rescue worker currently in A Nang Pa said that around 30 people who had been injured in Sunday’s attack died over the next three days due to a lack of medical attention.

“Most died due to excessive bleeding or an infection caused by exposure to gunpowder. If someone is injured by shrapnel or a bullet or in an explosion, the wounded body part sometimes has to be removed. If we don’t do this, the patients can develop infections, and it’s life threatening.”

A second rescue worker also located in A Nang Pa said casualties were still being documented, with many of the victims unidentifiable.

“As of yesterday, we were still collecting body parts [from people dismembered by the blasts],” she said on Thursday. “There were pieces of flesh or parts of hands or legs that had been blown off, and into nearby trees.” 

Kachin-based news outlets have reported that some of the bodies had been buried in a mass grave in Baw Saw Dee village, south of A Nang Pa and on the western shore of the Uru River. 

Some of the aftermath of airstrikes carried out by Myanmar’s military during a festival marking the KIO’s 62nd anniversary on October 23 (Supplied)

A man whose 20-year-old brother is among the wounded who are trapped near the blast site said that he described having suffered multiple shrapnel injuries to both legs and his arm in a brief phone call two days after the bombing.

“My brother told me that they were being denied medical care and asked us to come as soon as possible,” he said.

Phone and internet services have been widely cut off to Hpakant Township by the military, which also imposed curfews from 6pm until 6am in the town on Wednesday. 

Junta authorities also reportedly warned local religious leaders not to hold large memorial services for the deceased.

“They said that if a resident wants to hold a funeral, only a pastor and the people living in that person’s home can attend. They are handling everything related to this incident very strictly,” said the second rescue worker in Hpakant.

Junta-appointed administrators in Hpakant reportedly warned the religious leaders that any health facilities or medics that treat the victims from A Nang Pa or communicate with the KIO or other armed organisations will be charged with violating the Unlawful Associations Act. 

“They were told that it was just a verbal warning, to be followed by an official order from Naypyitaw. Before, we didn’t see junta administrators very often here, but we don’t know how they have only appeared now,” said the second Hpakant-based rescue worker.

The military council has not responded to claims that they had been preventing the injured from accessing medical care, but the day after the bombing denied that civilians had been killed in the attack, describing the victims as members of the KIO and the “terrorist” anti-junta People’s Defence Force. 

In a statement published by military-controlled media on Tuesday, the regime insisted that its target was a base operated by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the KIO’s armed wing. 

“A Nang Pa is not a KIA military base but a small camp with many shops where travellers stop for a rest. Even though the regime was aware of that, it launched the attack with the intention of carrying out a mass killing,” the KIO said in its own statement on Tuesday.

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