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Deadly Myanmar air strike shows no weakening to repressive military government

By MADELINE GUEST


Hundreds of innocent civilians gathered in celebration in the Kachin state of northern Myanmar on Sunday 23, October. The musical concert they were attending, which should have been met with joy and hope of fighting a repressive government, was instead brutally bombed by three major military jets. Images show debris from the performance stage and abandoned motorcycles strewn across the land, with local groups claiming up to eighty fatalities, on what was meant to be the opening night of a three-day celebration.


This bombing fell just days before the foreign ministers of ASEAN were due to discuss and combat Burmese violence outbreaks. They are now working in the face of an attack which saw the highest number of casualties in a singular air strike by this military since they seized control. This same government has since blocked surviving victims from accessing nearby hospitals, leaving them to suffer from their injuries.


Myanmar’s junta overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021, in a successful coup against her government, after claiming her party, the National League for Democracy, had created voter fraud to claim their landslide re-election victory. Mass protests against this takeover government began within a few days of their coup success, and the junta almost instantly reacted with violence: water cannons, beatings, rubber bullets and live ammunition. This military government has gone on to kill nearly 2300 civilians and arrest at least 15,000 citizens since this takeover, as claimed by a local Burmese monitoring group, who hopes to remain anonymous out of fear.


Despite fighting for autonomy for many decades, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) has had a recent spike in uprisings against the junta since its military coup. They are partly responsible for the establishment of an armed pro-democracy movement, in hopes of rallying a strong anti-government resistance since Aung San Suu Kyi was removed. It was for this reason, on the 62nd anniversary of the KIO formation, that the junta targeted their celebrations, foreshadowing the sentiment of their continued cruel dictatorship over Myanmar.


Responses to this attack, from all but one angle - that of the junta themselves - have been rightfully sympathetic to the KIO. Criticisms have been published from the Burmese UN office, the UN Secretary General’s office and Human Rights Watch, among others, offering their condolences to the grieving families. Colonel Naw Bu, a spokesman for KIO, claimed that the junta “were targeting civilians, not the enemy. This is an evil act and this is a war crime. We are grieving over the deaths of our people”. States are now calling for a global arms embargo, banking sanctions and an aviation fuel sales ban against this military government to curb rising civilian fatalities.


Other representatives, such as Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, Hana Young, have used this attack to bring light to the extent of repression of this military government. As well as outlining the pattern of bombings on civilians since February 2021, such as that on a school in the Sagaing region last month, Young calls for the military to allow medical access – what should be the bare minimum within any form of humanitarian crisis. “[The junta] has been able to carry out these crimes in the face of an ineffective international response to a human rights crisis that is only worsening”.


On the other hand, the junta still refuses to take any kind of responsibility for the damage and trauma they have inflicted on hundreds of families through this aerial bombing attack. On October 25, they released a statement claiming that the civilian deaths were mere “rumours based on fake news, false news and extorted news”. They plan to continue using air attacks to maintain control over this state.


It is clear that the repressive nature and abuses of the Burmese junta have been overlooked by the international community for too long. United Nations condemnations have been, so far, ineffective against such a cruel regime, with human rights associations such as Amnesty International instilling greater humanitarian change than their more powerful counterparts.


For their blatant display of war crimes, namely their killing of civilians and targeting of educational buildings, there are calls for the Myanmar military government to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This might finally incite a tangible move towards decreasing their legitimacy and hold over the government. Elaine Pearson, the Asian director at Human Rights Watch, forces the international community to reflect on their lack of action towards Myanmar: "How high does the death count need to reach before governments around the world impose consequences that will impact the junta’s behaviour?”


Image: Flickr/ Epjt Tours


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