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Myanmar military airstrike on school killed four children

The victims are reported to be all between the ages of 12 and 14, while many others are injured, with some in critical conditions


By Esther J in Karenni state, Myanmar and Emily Fishbein


A school in Daw Si Ei village, Karenni state, Myanmar following an airstrike. Photograph: Myo Satt Hla Thaw


An airstrike on a school in Myanmar’s south-eastern Karenni state killed four children and injured at least 15 others, according to five witnesses.


The victims, all boys aged 12 to 14, were students at the school in Daw Si Ei village, which served about 200 students and was run by local community members and former government teachers. Two additional children remain in critical condition after being wounded in the head and abdomen.


The mother of one of the victims reported seeing an plane, followed by a fighter jet, fly over the village at 10am on Monday.


“I didn’t even dare to go and look outside in the moments after the bomb dropped,” said Hay Blute Moo. “My children were so scared that they hid under the bed and cried after they escaped from the airstrike, especially the youngest one. He hugged me and cried for a long time.”


Witnesses said students at the school were attempting to run into a bunker when the strike hit. Communities across Myanmar routinely dig bunkers outside to protect themselves from military airstrikes.


The attack reportedly reduced the school facilities to rubble and left the surrounding area stained with blood.


A 16-year-old boy, who arrived at the school shortly after the attack, said he saw the bodies of three of the victims, including his 14-year-old brother. The fourth victim, he said, died as people attempted to transport him to the nearest medical facility run by local resistance forces and community members.


Since seizing power in a coup in February 2021, Myanmar’s military has struggled to subdue opposition to its rule and has relied on airstrikes and scorched earth tactics to push back against opposition.


Although the military has not yet issued a statement on Monday’s airstrikes, it has in the past targeted civilian areas and infrastructure including schools, medical facilities and religious buildings.


Junta-affiliated media outlets claimed reports of an airstrike on the village were false.


In January, the UN said that as part of the military’s strategy, it routinely targets places protected under international humanitarian law, including medical facilities and schools. Disruption to basic communications services, it said, means that civilians often have little or no warning in advance of these attacks.


Karenni state has been the site of heavy fighting between the military and pro-democracy forces. The fighting escalated in November, when local resistance forces launched a new offensive and the military retaliated by scaling up its attacks, including on civilian areas.


Maw Lay, who lost his 12-year-old son in Monday’s airstrike, said the attack occurred while students were preparing for their exams. “I’m very sad but I can’t do anything during the war … even if [the military] targets my house,” he said.


A 36-year-old teacher, who was at the school at the time of the incident and who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to security concerns, questioned why the military would target the school. “Our school is far away from an active conflict area and no resistance soldiers are staying here,” she said. “This is a place where innocent students are studying.”


A separate airstrike on a school in Loi Nan Hpa village, located two miles away, killed a villager who worked in a rice mill near the school, according to a local resident. One teacher also lost his leg due to the strike.

In total, more than 80% of Karenni state’s population has been internally displaced since the coup, according to the Karenni Human Rights Group, a community organisation that monitors human rights incidents in the state.


The organisation strongly condemned Monday’s attacks, saying “the military junta is intentionally destroying civilian infrastructure and places of refuge for the thousands of Karenni people who have been forced to flee their homes … The further escalation of attacks on schools is indicative of the military’s disregard for the lives of … children.”


In total, the UN has documented more than 554 civilians killed in Myanmar since October and more than 1,600 in 2023, an increase of about 300 from the previous year. A further 19,973 people remained in detention on political grounds, according to the UN.



© 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

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