The KIA says the nighttime airstrikes were carried out by the junta to target civilians ‘on purpose’ and constitute a war crime
Myanmar junta airstrikes on a music festival killed several dozen people in northern Myanmar’s Kachin State on Sunday evening, according to media reports and a spokesperson from the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).
The festival was being held in honour of the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the KIO, marked officially on October 25. Sunday’s concert was held at a site called A Nang Pa in jade-rich Hpakant Township, an area under the control of Brigade 9 of the KIO’s armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and just two miles from the village of Ginsi (Kan Hsee), according to the Kachin News Group.
Three Myanmar military fighter jets dropped bombs on the location mid-way through the festival at around 8:30pm, killing at least 50 people including four well-known Kachin artists, and injuring many more. Footage of the area after the attack showed that structures in the area had been levelled by the blasts, and debris, including machinery, vehicles and building materials, scattered widely.
Also among the casualties were KIA officers who were attending the event, according to the organisation’s spokesperson, Col Naw Bu. He said that the KIO was working to provide medical treatment for those who were wounded.
“There was no fighting that had broken out between us and the military [in the area],” Col Naw Bu told Myanmar Now on Monday afternoon, noting that it had been months since the last clash in Hpakant.
The Kachin News Group reported that around 100 people were injured and reportedly trapped in Ginsi as Myanmar army troops restricted social welfare groups from accessing the site to provide assistance.
A source within the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) speculated that the death toll may be higher than initial estimates.
“It is very sad. Many of the victims were our fellow KBC Christians and they were just regular civilians,” the source said.
One of the bombs reportedly detonated near the main stage while singer Aurai was performing, killing him instantly. Other artists killed in the attack were singer Galau Yaw Lwi and a keyboard player named Ko King. Actor Lahtaw Zau Ding was also reportedly among the casualties, but Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify his death at the time of reporting.
At least nine Kachin entertainers were at the festival to perform.
Left to right, singers Aurai and Galau Yaw Lwi, who were reported as having been killed in the military bombing on October 23, and and actor Lahtaw Zau Ding whose condition is still unknown at the time of reporting (Kachin News Group)
The incident is the most lethal airstrike perpetrated by the junta on a KIA-controlled area since the military coup in February last year.
Zay Thu Aung, a Myanmar air force captain who defected to the resistance after 17 years as a military pilot, told Myanmar Now that the jets that attacked Hpakant on Sunday had come from the Tada-U airport in Mandalay, and were likely Russian-made Yak-130 model aircraft.
“It is very possible that they used Yak-130s because that kind of jet can drop 500-pound bombs or 1,100-pounds bombs at night,” he told Myanmar Now. “The military council will do whatever it pleases… They only think about winning the war.”
Another air force officer who defected, Sgt Htet Naing Aung, who was stationed at an air base in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, confirmed the likelihood that Yak-130 jets were used.
Zay Thu Aung estimated that the travel time by air from Tada-U to Hpakant would have been a half-hour maximum, leaving little warning time.
Sources close to the KIA said that scouts for the resistance were aware that the aircraft had left the Tada-U that evening, but that no one believed that they had set out to target the festival.
Phone and internet connections were cut off in Hpakant by the military soon after the coup.
The military has repeatedly accused the KIA, headquartered in Laiza along the Kachin-China border, of playing a vital role in the ongoing anti-coup resistance movement by training, arming and collaborating with People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) active in Sagaing; the region is highly contested, and is connected to northern Kachin State through land routes.
On Monday morning, clashes broke out between the military and a joint force belonging to the KIA and the PDFs near the town of Momauk, 200 miles southeast of Hpakant, in which the junta’s forces employed jets and heavy artillery fire.
A 17-year ceasefire between the military and the KIA broke down in 2011 when fighting resumed in Momauk.