The Myanmar military’s deadliest airstrikes

Gen Tun Aung, commander of Myanmar’s air force, was granted the chairmanship of next year’s Air Chiefs Conference within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last week, as airstrikes continue to kill and displace civilians nationwide.

In granting the distinction to the general, activist group Justice for Myanmar accused ASEAN on Tuesday of “knowingly aiding and abetting the junta to continue its war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

“It is unacceptable that ASEAN and its partners see it as appropriate to allow the junta to lead regional defence bodies, providing it with legitimacy, support and platforms for its disinformation and propaganda,” JFM spokesperson Yadanar Maung said in a statement. 

At the time of reporting, estimates compiled by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs suggested that 1.4m people had been displaced by “ongoing hostilities” throughout Myanmar since the February 2021 coup. However, recent data from local organisations with direct access to conflict areas indicate that this number is likely much higher, and due to the junta’s air and ground offensives. 

Nearly 2,500 people have been killed by the regime’s armed forces during this same period and nearly 13,000 placed in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which provides the disclaimer that the actual figures may be greater than the number the organisation is able to verify.

From Karenni State to Sagaing Region and Kachin State, Myanmar Now has highlighted five of the military’s most brutal aerial attacks on the public over the last year. The assaults relied on a range of aircrafts to drop bombs and fire light weapons on the targeted areas, as well as to send junta troops to continue raids of villages.

Map of Myanmar indicating the locations of five major airstrikes during 2022 (Myanmar Now)

A Nang Pa, Kachin State

The October 23 aerial bombing of a music festival A Nang Pa, 20 miles north of Hpakant town in Kachin State, has been called the junta’s “single deadliest attack” by civil society organisation Progressive Voice. 

Hundreds of civilians had gathered for a concert commemorating the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) when military jets, presumably Yak-130 models, dropped three bombs on and around the main stage at 9pm. Some 62 people were initially killed in the airstrike, including well-known Kachin performing artists, KIO officers, and area villagers. 

“There were pieces of flesh or parts of hands or legs that had been blown off, and into nearby trees,” a rescue worker at the scene told Myanmar Now. 

Victims of the airstrike on A Nang Pa on October 23 (Supplied)

An estimated 30 of the 100 people who were injured in the attack died in the days that followed, after the military set up roadblocks around A Nang Pa and denied access to medical treatment for the wounded.

Junta authorities also reportedly warned local religious leaders in Hpakant not to hold large memorial services for the deceased, and to only allow immediate members of their household to attend the funerals.

Pa Dat Taing, Sagaing Region

A military airstrike on the closing ceremony for a resistance group’s combat training course in Pa Dat Taing, Myinmu Township, was reinforced by a ground assault after troops were airlifted into the area on January 31.

An Mi-35 attack helicopter from the Northwestern Military Command in Monywa fired on the Sagaing Region village home to 2,500 people, while two other helicopters airlifted around 40 soldiers to the site. They occupied the community for three days, after which locals found the burned bodies of the estimated 20 victims of the assault.

Among those identified were: Myo Chit, 60; Pauk Sa, 57; Khin Maung Soe, 50; Tun Tun, 50; Moe Swe, 50; Myo Khaing, 40; Kyaw Myo Oo, 40; Chit Myo Myo, 40, and Min Naing, 30.

Letyetkone, Sagaing Region

At least seven children and six adults were killed when the military launched air and ground assaults on several villages in Sagaing Region’s Depayin Township on September 16, including on a school in a monastery compound in the village of Letyetkone.

A resident of the area said that the aircraft appeared without warning and fired indiscriminately on Letyetkone, Thitton and Nyaung Hla villages. 

Photos taken after the September 16 attack on Letyetkone show extensive damage to the village school (Depayin Township IDP Support / Facebook

“They just suddenly came out of nowhere and started shooting. The two helicopters hovered overhead and fired down on us. When the jets passed over us, there was nothing we could do but lie flat on the ground,” he said.

Most of the confirmed casualties were at the Letyetkone school, where junta troops also held teachers and students hostage before sending 12 of them—including injured children, volunteers, and other civilians—to neighbouring Ye-U Township, according to Myanmar’s publicly mandated National Unity Government. Only 10 were later released. 

Yin Paung Taing, Sagaing Region

One of the most violent and prolonged assaults by junta forces occurred in the village of Yin Paung Taing in Sagaing’s Yinmabin Township. 

On August 11, three Mi-35 attack helicopters from Monywa attacked the village from the air, while 60 soldiers were dropped from three helicopters and launched a ground offensive before stationing themselves in a monastery for three days. 

The ruins of Yin Paung Taing village following the August airstrike (Supplied)

After they left, the remains of 19 people, including a 10-year-old girl, were found. Many of the victims appeared to have been killed by heavy and light weaponry, and two elderly people died of starvation during the occupation. 

“The village felt like a cemetery and the smell of rotten flesh was everywhere,” a local man said.  

The airstrike was carried out soon after 80 members of a resistance group travelling from neighbouring Chin State had stopped in Yin Paung Taing to rest, leading locals to speculate that the military had received intel regarding the guerrilla force’s movements and that they had likely been the target of the attack.

Hpruso, Karenni State 

Two sisters, 12 and 15 years old, were killed along with a man in his 50s when a junta airplane bombed an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp near Ree Khee Bu village in Karenni State’s Hpruso Township on January 17. 

“The shrapnel hit the building where the girls were sleeping… their bodies were completely ripped apart and flew everywhere,” a camp volunteer said, adding that the bomb exploded around 120 feet from the camp and left a five–foot-deep crater. 

Damage from the airstrike on the IDP camp near Ree Khee Bu (KFBR)

Two more bombs exploded in a different area of the camp where buildings were under construction. 

Around 700 IDPs had been staying in the camp since fleeing the village of Moso in late December 2021, where junta troops massacred dozens of people on Christmas Eve. 

After the January airstrike, they fled again. 

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