Myanmar junta uses ‘highly destructive’ bomb in Karenni State, military insiders say

An undetonated bomb dropped by the Myanmar army on Karenni State’s Demoso Township is very possibly of the highly explosive FAB variety, according to military sources, including an air force defector. 

The bomb was one of two fired from a fighter jet at a Catholic church in Sawng Dular village in Demoso on March 8. It failed to explode on impact and was found partially buried by anti-junta Karenni resistance forces on Tuesday. 

Sgt Htet Naing Aung, an air force officer who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), told Myanmar Now that he had discussed the bomb’s classification with other members of the air force now supporting the resistance. 

“We call those FAB bombs. They use oxygen in the explosions, and they also generate heat waves and release high air pressure, too,” he explained, describing a type of thermobaric explosive. “This extremely high pressure could cause both internal bleeding and bleeding from the nose and ears in humans who are near the explosion site.” 

“It has really high destructive power,” he added. 

Members of the resistance attempt to drag the unexploded bomb out of the ground (KNDF)

The sergeant, who served in the Myitkyina air force command in Kachin State for nine years, said such bombs are internationally regarded as “cruel weapons” and were not, to his knowledge, commonly used in Myanmar. 

“There are four warehouses in Myitkyina that store bombs and I’ve never seen one like this,” he said.

At the time of reporting, Myanmar Now was unable to verify if the bomb in question had thermobaric capabilities. 

Cpt Khant Ko, another CDM officer who previously served at the Directorate of Defence Industries before defecting in May 2021, said the same. 

“I never saw this type of a bomb at our factory. I think the air force is buying them directly from foreign countries.”

The bomb, estimated to weigh 250kg, had sank 10 feet into the ground, and a member of the Karenni Army revolutionary force said it could only be removed with a bulldozer and a metal chain.

The majority of bombs used by the military in Karenni State weight 50 to 100kg, the resistance fighter added. 

“When we opened it up, we found that it had very different internal structures from the ones we are used to seeing,” he explained. “It was quite hard for us to understand how it worked. We had to put in a lot of effort to defuse it.”

Cpt Htet Naing Aung said that it was likely intended for widespread destruction.

“I think they used this type of bomb so that the revolutionary forces hiding in bunkers, caves and trenches would be hit,” he said. 

The area that was bulldozed to unearth the bomb (KNDF)

Serbian ties

Documentation gathered by Myanmar Now since last May suggests that the junta bought weapons manufactured in Serbia following the coup in February last year, including missiles and highly explosive or FAB bombs.

Nearly 60,000kg of such weapons were imported to Myanmar through the Myanmar Chemical and Machinery Company (MCM) during this time. 

MCM is owned by known arms broker Aung Hlaing Oo, who has arranged weapons deals for the air force by Slobada, a Serbian state-owned arms manufacturer. 

According to an MCM report submitted to the air force commander-in-chief in September 2019, 15 types of weapons were purchased in this way, including several types of missiles and bombs. 

The report sent by MCM arms broker Aung Hlaing Oo to the office of the commander-in-chief of the air force

Sgt Htet Naing Aung confirmed that many of the weapons used in airstrikes were imported from Serbia and Poland in the past, but that Poland had since stopped selling weapons to Myanmar. 

He said it was “very likely” that the military was continuing to procure weapons from Serbia. 

Siemon Wezemen, a senior researcher with the Arms Transfers Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Myanmar Now that further examination of the unexploded bomb in Karenni State could confirm its country of origin, noting that the major components differentiating bombs’ manufacturers were apparent in the design of the tails, as well as possibly in lettering on the device. 

He also said that the two red bands marked on the device suggest that the bomb could be a type of incendiary weapon, but was not able to identify the bomb accurately with the photos and data currently available. 

According to a collaborative investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Myanmar Witness, Center for Investigative Journalism in Serbia and Lighthouse Reports, Serbia exported a major cache of weapons to Myanmar in the days that followed the coup. 

The investigation cited statistics from Serbia’s trade ministry indicating that more than 2,500 unguided rockets valued at 4.75m euros were sent to Myanmar in two shipments in January and February 2021. 

According to the report, the rockets used in assaults on Loikaw Township in Karenni State in January were found to be identical to those Serbia had been exporting, when compared against video and photographic evidence. 

The anti-junta youth group the Progressive Karenni People Force has reported that 221 civilians were killed by the Myanmar army in the Karenni region over the last year. 

Myanmar Now has verified that at least 18 of these civilians, including eight children, were killed in seven incidents of military shellings and airstrikes—five of which occurred this year—on internally displaced persons’ camps and in areas where there were no battles with resistance forces. 

The military attacks continue daily in the state from the ground and air. 

Additional reporting by Min Min.

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