Myanmar junta seals off roads after hitting crowded concert with airstrike

As the death toll rises to as many as 70, roadblocks prevent the wounded from getting medical attention.

By RFA Burmese

Myanmar junta seals off roads after hitting crowded concert with airstrike

In this photo provided by a citizen journalist, a mass burial ground with newly placed gravemarkers for the victims of Sunday, Oct. 23 Myanmar junta airstrikes are seen in Hpakant township, northern Kachin State, Myanmar, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Church members in Hpakant buried the victims close to the site of the airstrike on Tuesday since military junta was blocking the roads in and out of an area hit with airstrikes killing a large number of civilians.

 Citizen journalist

UPDATED at 8:27 p.m. EDT on 10/25/2022

Myanmar’s military has blocked off roads leading in and out of concert grounds that its jets hit with an airstrike that killed as many as 70 people and wounded dozens more, many of whom were in desperate need of medical attention, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia.

“There are about 150 injured patients and 60-70 people are already dead,” said a resident, who requested anonymity for safety reasons. “I am very worried as we can’t give any medical treatment to the injured. We approached the junta blockage gates and asked if we could help but they wouldn’t let us through.”

In Sunday’s attack, fighter jets dropped bombs on crowds at a concert near Hpakant township, in Kachin state, celebrating the anniversary of the Kachin Independence Organization, or KIO, which has been advocating for greater autonomy for one of the largest ethnic groups in northeastern Myanmar.

Colonel Naw Bu, a KIO spokesperson, said the confirmed death toll stood at 62 as of Tuesday afternoon, with the same number wounded. But the death toll could rise if those badly wounded didn’t get medical attention.

“This is such an inhumane act. It was not in a battle,” he said. “The junta intentionally attacked us when we were all peacefully celebrating together with many civilians. It was cowardly and inhumane. This is definitely a war crime.”

It was the bloodiest airstrike since the military took control of the government in a February 2021 coup, which has led to months of fighting between the military and various rebel groups.

The junta was blocking access even to local aid groups, a relief worker told RFA’s Burmese service. “Most local aid groups from Hpakant went there but we couldn’t reach them,” he said.

Unable to get through, some rescue organizations have given up. … The injured patients are getting no medical treatment,” he said.

Retaliation for rebel attacks

In a statement, the junta’s foreign ministry said the area was a KIA base restricted to the public, not a concert site, and that the bombing was retaliation for on rebel “terrorists” for their attacks on security forces.

“Security forces had to retaliate in self-defence and to take necessary measures against armed terrorists,” it said. Reports that civilians and musicians were “fabricated,” the ministry statement said said.

But residents reached by RFA said most of the dead were civilians, and a few were members of the Kachin Independence Army.

The junta’s Minister of Social Affairs for Kachin State, Win Ye Tun, said he was not informed that troops were blocking the roads into the area. “We are arranging to help those injured and support the people there with necessities. It’s started,” he said. “But I don’t know about the rest of the story about the battles.”

ENG_BUR_AirstrikeUpdate_10252022 102.JPG
In this Feb.2, 2021 file photo, Myanmar junta soldiers stand guard at a road barrier manned with armored vehicles blocking a road leading to the parliament building in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Military junta has blocked off roads leading in and out of an area in Hpakant township, northern Kachin State, Myanmar that hit with an airstrike on Sunday, Oct.23, killing more than 70 people and injuring 150 others, many of whom are in desperate need of medical attention, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia. Photo: AP

“We have been picking up bodies and parts of bodies, so I think more than 70 are dead. Since [the injured] are trapped here, many are trying to give them medical treatment with what little supplies we have,” one resident said, asking not to be identified.

The Kachin Independence Organization said the junta’s attack was aimed at causing the maximum possible deaths as civilians were attending a music concert. The group said it will transform this “sorrowful incident into a revolutionary force” and accelerate the fight against the military dictatorship.
Several Kachin musicians were among the dead, including keyboard player Zakhon Zau Mum, also known as Ko King. The junta prevented his family from transporting his body back to his hometown, a family member told RFA.

“We can’t go get his body,” she said. “I’ve been told that they are preparing to bury all dead bodies in some village that we don’t know.”

International condemnation

On Monday, the U.N.’s Myanmar office called the attack an “excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians.”

The embassies of the U.S., E.U., Norway, Switzerland and the U.K. issued a joint statement saying the attack showed the junta’s disregard for its obligation to protect civilians and respect the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.

The junta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pushed back against statements made by the U.S. and the U.N., saying they were one-sided. “Foreign governments and the United Nations are advised to verify facts before making statements,” it said.

Elaine Pearson, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch called the airstrike an “apparent violation of the laws of war, which prohibit attacks causing indiscriminate or disproportionate civilian harm.”

She accused the military junt of carrying out crimes against humanity and war crimes. “How high does the death count need to reach before governments around the world impose consequences that will impact the junta’s behavior?” she asked.

Pearson urged the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the junta and to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

She also called on Southeast Asian leaders, who will meet at the ASEAN Summit in November in Cambodia to signal their support for such efforts.

ASEAN released a statement expressing its concern about the escalation of violence in Myanmar, including against civilians.

“We, therefore, strongly urge utmost restraint and immediate cessation of violence,” it readm adding that all concerned parties should engage in “constructive dialogue” to find a peaceful solution.

The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a group of independent international experts, condemned the airstrike, with former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee calling it “horrific.”

“Junta fighter jets deliberately attacked a nighttime music concert attended by hundreds of civilians knowing it would likely cause catastrophic loss of life, an act that constitutes a war crime,” Lee said. “When will the international community, including the UN and ASEAN, stand with the people of Myanmar and support the democratic revolution?”

Killing civilians in an airstrike was the “ultimate act of junta cowardice and inhumanity,” former chair of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, said.

“Sadly, it is entirely consistent with the campaign of scorched-earth that the Myanmar military has been waging against the peoples of Myanmar, including the Kachin, with impunity not just for the last 20 months but for decades,” said Darusman.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Update: Adds reaction from sources within the blocked off area as well as responses from the junta, the Kachin Independence Organization and the international community.

RFA News