‘Yakkha’ pilots in Yak-130s likely responsible for Hpakant airstrike: defector

A late-night aerial assault that killed more than 60 people in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township on Sunday was likely carried out by a squadron of Russian-made Yak-130 military aircraft based in Mandalay, according to a military defector.

The attack, which targeted a music festival held to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), killed four high-ranking officials of the group and dozens of civilians, including performers.

According to Zay Thu Aung, a former captain in Myanmar’s air force who defected in February, the nearest major airbase to the site of the attack is in Tada-U, just south of Mandalay, where the No. 62 Fighter Squadron of Yak-130s is based together with the No. 64 Bomber Squadron of A-5 fighter jets.

The fighter squadron has 38 pilots, including two lieutenant colonels, six majors, eight lieutenants, and 22 captains, according to a document obtained by Myanmar Now. Each pilot is assigned a call sign that consists of the word “Yakkha” followed by a three-digit code number. The word—Burmese for  “ogre”—is also an allusion to the type of aircraft they fly.

In addition to providing the pilots’ call signs, the document also identifies the squadron commander as Lt-Col Zaw Myint Tun, who would have been “fully responsible” for the Hpakant attack, said Zay Thu Aung.

Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify his claims.

The attack on Sunday was the deadliest by the military since it seized power in a coup early last year. Facing heavy casualties on the ground, the junta has made frequent use of its air superiority to carry out punitive strikes against both armed resistance groups and civilian targets.

The KIO and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), have played a major role in supporting groups formed to oppose the coup, providing arms and training to anti-regime forces in Myanmar’s northern Sagaing Region and other areas.

Myanmar Now has learned that resistance groups attempted to inform the KIO of the departure of the junta jets from Tada-U on Sunday night, but were unable to do so because phone signals in A Nang Pa, where the festival was being held, had been jammed.

A source within the anti-regime People’s Defence Force said that the KIO had also been alerted a week before the attack of possible plans to target the group’s anniversary gathering.

The military claims that A Nang Pa is a KIA base and has denied that many of the victims of the attack were civilians. The KIA says that the area is a popular rest stop for travellers and not a military outpost.

According to first responders who spoke to Myanmar Now, only 37 of the more than 60 people who were killed have so far been identified. More than 100 others were severely injured, they added.

They also said that junta troops stationed near Ginsi–the nearest village to A Nang Pa – blocked their efforts to send the injured to hospitals in Hpakant and the state capital Myitkyina.

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