Myanmar regime denies killing civilians in airstrikes on Kachin festival

Myanmar’s military junta has dismissed claims that civilians were among the dozens of people killed by airstrikes carried out during a festival in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township on Sunday.

In a statement published by state media on Tuesday, the regime called reports of heavy civilian casualties in the attack “fake news” and insisted that its target was a base operated by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The festival—held at a site controlled by KIA Brigade 9 called A Nang Pa, located near the village of Ginsi—marked the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the armed group’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).

The event attracted a number of well-known Kachin performers, at least four of whom were killed by a bomb that detonated near the main stage, according to Kachin media reports.

The regime statement claimed that only KIA officers and “terrorists” from the anti-junta People’s Defence Force (PDF) were killed in the attack.

It also said that the airstrikes were a “necessary counter operation” carried out in response to attacks by KIA Brigade 9 troops and their PDF allies on police and military outposts.

It also accused the groups of attacking boats carrying goods along the Ayeyarwady River between Shwegu and Bhamo in Kachin State and Katha in Sagaing Region.

Resistance groups based in the area say their attacks targeted military boats travelling on the river.

The KIO also issued a statement on Tuesday in which it accused the regime of deliberately targeting civilians in Sunday’s assault.

“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 group said in its statement.

The KIA’s information officer, Col Naw Bu, confirmed on Monday that a brigade commander and several other KIA officers were among the dead.

“We only heard that the brigade commander was killed and we can confirm as much,” he said, adding that further details could not be released as a list of victims was still being compiled.

Many of the wounded were also unable to receive immediate treatment for their injuries due to the interference of regime forces at security checkpoints, he added.

“It was especially difficult to send the victims to the hospital because they kept conducting security searches,” he said.

A source within the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) told Myanmar Now that junta troops stationed in the village of Kan See were still obstructing efforts to assist survivors of the attack.

“We still can’t send the injured to the other side because they said they are waiting for orders from the regional military command,” the KBC source said.

On Monday, the Myanmar office of the United Nations said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened” by reports of heavy civilian casualties in the latest airstrike by the country’s regime.

In a statement released the same day, the civilian National Unity Government called on the international community “to take effective actions urgently to stop the terrorist military from perpetrating atrocities, which include deliberate airstrikes targeting civilians.

Several other ethnic organisations, including the Karenni National Progressive Party—whose Karenni Army has fought alongside anti-regime resistance forces since last year’s coup—also condemned the airstrike on Sunday as a war crime.

In a joint statement, the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—which together with the KIA form the Northern Brotherhood Alliance—said they hoped the military would receive appropriate punishment for its attack on civilians.  

In its own statement, the KIO vowed to “transform the tragedy into a stronger force of resistance to the junta.”

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