Save the Children says two staffers were among those killed in Christmas massacre

The international aid group Save the Children confirmed on Tuesday that two missing staff members were among the at least 35 people, including women and children, killed by the Myanmar military in Kayah (Karenni) State on Christmas eve.

At least 35 charred bodies, including one belonging to a child, were found near the Hpruso Township village of Moso early Christmas morning. Resistance forces based in the region accused army troops who were present in the area on Friday of committing the massacre.

“It is with profound sadness that we are confirming today that two members of Save the Children’s staff were among at least 35 people, including women and children, who were killed on Friday 24th December,” the aid group said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The two staff were both new fathers who were passionate about educating children,” said the statement, adding that the two men, who were not named for security reasons, were 32 and 28 years old and had been with the organisation for two and six years, respectively.

“The men were on their way back to their office after working on a humanitarian response in a nearby community when they were caught up in the attack,” Save the Children said. “The military forced people from their cars, arrested some, killed many and burnt the bodies.”

According to the anti-regime Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF), the bodies were found on eight burned vehicles and five motorbikes near Moso on Saturday, a day after a clash in the area between the military and a joint force consisting of the KNDF and the Karenni Army.

Around 100 troops from the Myanmar army’s Light Infantry Division (LID) 66 were advancing towards Hpruso from Demoso Township on Friday when the clash began, the KNDF said.

During the military offensive, the army troops beat and arrested villagers and ransacked their property, the KNDF said in a statement on Saturday. 

The troops also killed four members of the Karenni Border Guard Force (BGF), known as BGF Battalion 1004, who attempted to stop the army troops from terrorising the villagers, according to the KNDF statement.

Inger Ashing, chief executive of Save the Children, called the attack on civilians “senseless” and a breach of international humanitarian law.

“We are shaken by the violence carried out against civilians and our staff, who are dedicated humanitarians, supporting millions of children in need across Myanmar,” she said in the statement on Tuesday.

“This is not an isolated event. The people of Myanmar continue to be targeted with increasing violence and these events demand an immediate response.”

She also called for the United Nations Security Council to convene as soon as possible to hold the Myanmar military to account. 

UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that authorities in Myanmar must launch “a thorough and transparent investigation” into the massacre to bring the perpetrators to justice swiftly.

“I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” said Griffiths.

Myanmar’s military-controlled state media reported that security forces in Hpruso came under fire on Friday from “suspicious” vehicles that failed to stop when ordered to do so.

The report said the people inside the vehicles were “captured dead” after a shootout. It did not mention how many were killed or the fact that the charred bodies were found near Moso. 

Members of a Karenni police force formed by anti-junta police officers in August said on Monday that it was investigating the incident and invited locals to report missing people to them.

So far, the group has received reports of 37 people—35 men and two women—who have gone missing in the area, according to its spokesperson.

“We are still investigating and can’t disclose any details yet. We will release a public statement when we know more,” he said.

Banya, the director of the Karenni Human Rights Group, said the charred bodies were moved to a safe place with the help of the KNDF on Tuesday morning.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military toppled the country’s elected civilian government on February 1. Since then, dozens of armed resistance groups have emerged around the country in response to the junta’s violent crackdowns on peaceful anti-coup protests.

At least 1,380 people have been killed by the military since the coup and more than 8,000 opponents of the regime are currently in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group based in exile.

Esther J contributed to this report

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