Protesters demonstrate against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 8, 2021, about a week after the junta removed the country's civilian government. File Photo by Xiao Long/ UPI | License Photo
Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Military rulers in Myanmar have killed at least 11 children and several are missing following an airstrike on civilian areas that included a school, United Nations officials said Tuesday.
The U.N. children's fund, or UNICEF, said the strike occurred in Tabayin Township in the Sagaing region of northwestern Myanmar late last week.
"While more details are still being verified, UNICEF offers condolences to the parents and families who lost their children," UNICEF said in a statement. "Schools must be safe. Children must never be attacked."
Local independent media cited accounts from villagers in reporting that two military helicopters attacked a monastic school on Friday, followed by a raid by ground troops. Images shared online showed the bloody aftermath and rubble from the damaged building.
A military-controlled Myanmar television news station confirmed that forces attacked the village and said they were acting on a tip that the rebel Kachin Independence Army and a local militia were transporting weapons and using the school as a hideout.
The military argued that the rebels were using civilians as human shields.
The junta has been in control of Myanmar since February 2021 when it overthrew the country's civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi over what it said was voter fraud in the country's election a few months earlier. Those claims have been widely debunked.
Civil disobedience and nationwide protests sprung up immediately after the coup, which the junta have brutally suppressed and have hardened into an internal conflict that some describe as a full-fledged civil war.
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the Myanmar military has arrested more than 15,500 civilians and killed about 3,000.
A report released in August by the U.N. Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar documented accounts of children being tortured, conscripted and arbitrarily detained, sometimes as proxies for their parents.
The head of the group, Nicholas Koumjian, said last week that "there is increasing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer, persecution, imprisonment and targeting of the civilian population" by the military.
On Tuesday, Save the Children called for the heads of state to condemn the attack at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. It also asked for the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution to protect the rights of children in Myanmar -- "including their right to a safe education," Save the Children Asian regional director Hassan Noor said in a statement.
"We ask [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] to step up and take action. How many more incidents like this need to take place before action is taken?"