ASEAN condemns killings of ‘at least dozens of’ civilians in Myanmar airstrike

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
ASEAN condemns killings of ‘at least dozens of’ civilians in Myanmar airstrike Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi speaks during a news conference at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Feb. 3, 2023.
Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations finally came out on Thursday to condemn the slaughter of as many as 130 people in an airstrike by Burmese junta forces on a village in Myanmar’s Sagaing region this week.

A fighter-jet dropped two bombs on Pa Zi Gyi, a village in Kanbalu Township, and two Mi-35 attack helicopters strafed the crowd with gunfire, eyewitnesses said, after hundreds of villagers had gathered for an office opening ceremony on Tuesday, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

Women and children were among the dead. It was one of the most lethal strikes by the junta on civilians since the Burmese military seized power in a February 2021 coup. 

Indonesia, the 2023 holder of the ASEAN chair, issued the statement on the Southeast Asian bloc’s behalf two days after the United Nations and United States came out with statements deploring the attack.

“ASEAN strongly condemns the reported recent air strikes carried out by the Myanmar Armed Forces in Pa Zi Gyi Village, Kanbalu Township, Sagaing Region of Myanmar, that claimed the lives of at least dozens of civilians,” the ASEAN chair said.

“All forms of violence must end immediately, particularly the use of force against civilians,” it added. “This would be the only way to create a conducive environment for an inclusive national dialogue to find a sustainable peaceful solution in Myanmar.”

The 10-member bloc, whose members include Myanmar and which operates largely by consensus, has been widely criticized for failing to take strong action against the Burmese junta.

The military has carried on with attacks amid nationwide turmoil in the nearly two years since the junta chief agreed to follow a five-point peace framework that ASEAN leaders agreed to during an emergency summit on post-coup Myanmar.

In Jakarta on Thursday, an aide to Indonesian President Joko Widodo declined to comment in response to a query from BenarNews about the ASEAN statement. Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman and director-general for ASEAN matters did not immediately respond to questions on whether the regional bloc would back up its strongly worded statement with punitive action against Naypyidaw.

This image grab from a video shows the aftermath of shelling and airstrikes by Burmese junta forces on Pa Zi Gyi, a village in Kanbalu township in the Sagaing region of Myanmar, April 11, 2023. [Citizen journalist via RFA]

In Sagaing, witnesses said it was hard to tell how many people were killed in Tuesday’s aerial attack because the bodies were so badly mangled by the bombs and machine-gun fire.

As of Thursday, the death toll had risen to 130 people, according to a report by RFA Burmese that cited information from a rescue team of volunteers in the village. RFA is a news organization affiliated with BenarNews.

Amid the carnage, the military had deployed a surveillance helicopter and stationed troops on the outskirts of Pa Zi Gyi, impeding efforts to collect body parts and bring the wounded for medical treatment, residents said.

The Burmese military confirmed in a statement on Tuesday evening that it had carried out a “precision” attack on Pa Zi Gyi because, it said, members of the anti-junta People Defense Force paramilitary group had gathered there and “committed terrorist acts” in the area.

Junta Deputy Information Minister Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun told the military-controlled broadcast channel MRTV that those killed in the strike were members of the PDF – not civilians – and that the large number of casualties was the result of a rebel weapons cache exploding during the operation.

But a rescue worker who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns, said this was false. The attack on the site was deliberate and thorough, beginning with a fighter-jet bombing run followed by the helicopters strafing the area, the source told RFA.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, provoking mass protests and armed resistance. More than 3,200 civilians have been killed by the military since then, according to U.N. estimates.

Since April 2021, Myanmar’s military rulers have ignored a blueprint for peace agreed to by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the Burmese junta chief, and leaders of ASEAN member-states at the emergency summit in Jakarta. Among its provisions, the five-point consensus, called for an end to violence, dialogue with all parties and humanitarian assistance.


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