Myanmar military fighter jets, seen at a parade flyover in February, bombed a musical festival in Kachin State on Sunday, killing 80 musicians, spectators and rebel group officials, local reports said. File Photo by EPA-EFE
Oct. 25 (UPI) -- An airstrike by Myanmar's ruling military has killed up to 80 people at a music festival in the country's mountainous northern state of Kachin, local media and international organizations said, drawing widespread condemnation.
Three fighter jets bombed the festival on Sunday, independent news outlet Myanmar Now reported Monday, killing at least four well-known Kachin performers, as well as civilians and officers of the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic rebel group that controls the area and has clashed with the Myanmar military for decades.
The festival was held to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the group's political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization.
Some 80 people were killed and 100 injured by the aerial attack in Hpakant Township, according to Kachin News Group, which also reported that government security forces were blocking wounded people from leaving the area to receive medical treatment.
The casualty figures have not been independently verified, but the bombing would appear to be the deadliest airstrike since the military overthrew a democratically elected civilian government and seized power in a February 2021 coup.
The United Nations on Monday said it was "deeply concerned and saddened" by the attack.
"What would appear to be excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians is unacceptable and those responsible must be held to account," it said in a statement.
Myanmar's National Unity Government, a government-in-exile composed of ousted lawmakers and politicians, called the attack a violation of International laws and said the military has conducted 240 airstrikes targeting civilian populations since the coup, resulting in more than 200 deaths.
"The act of the terrorist military clearly violates international laws as the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate that civilians must be protected from attack at all times," the NUG said in a statement.
A military airstrike last month on a village, including a school, in the Sagaing region of northwestern Myanmar killed at least 11 children.
Rights group Amnesty International said the bombing on Sunday was the latest in a series of unlawful air attacks by the military and called on leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who are meeting this week to discuss Myanmar, to step up efforts to resolve the crisis.
"We fear this attack is part of a pattern of unlawful aerial attacks by the military, which have killed and injured civilians in areas controlled by armed groups," Amnesty International deputy regional director Hana Young said.
"This attack highlights the need to overhaul the approach to the crisis in Myanmar," she said in a statement. "ASEAN has to step up and formulate a more robust course of action so that military leaders end this escalating repression."
Ambassadors and diplomats from Australia, Canada, Britain, the United States, the European Union and EU member states with a presence in Myanmar issued a joint statement Monday condemning the attack.
"Indiscriminate attacks which include civilian victims continue to cause extraordinary harm and suffering across the country," the statement said. "This attack underscores the military regime's responsibility for crisis and instability in Myanmar and the region and its disregard for its obligation to protect civilians and respect the principles and rules of international humanitarian law."
Myanmar's military government acknowledged the airstrike but called the reports of the massacre of civilians "fake news" and claimed it was battling armed rebels under international rules of engagement.
"As security forces, they are required to fight insurgents, which is necessary for regional stability and peace," Myanmar's Ministry of Information said in a news release.
In February 2021, Myanmar's military overthrew the elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on widely debunked charges of voter fraud, detaining the former democracy activist and other high-ranking officials.
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.
Human rights investigators at the United Nations released a report in August outlining the junta's "systematic crimes against humanity."