Myanmar military helicopters strafe religious school, killing 7 children and at least 6 adults: eyewitness report
- A school administrator said two Mi-35 helicopters shot at the school, in a Buddhist monastery compound, for about an hour on Friday last week
- About 30 students were wounded in the attack. Some lost limbs. Witnesses said soldiers burned the bodies of the dead children in a nearby township
Friday’s attack occurred in Let Yet Kone village in Tabayin, also known as Depayin, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of Mandalay, the country’s second largest city.
School administrator Mar Mar said she was trying to get students to safe hiding places in ground floor classrooms when two of four Mi-35 helicopters hovering north of the village began attacking, firing machine guns and heavier weapons at the school, which is located in the compound of the village’s Buddhist monastery.
She said she had not expected trouble since the aircraft had been over the village before without any incident.
“Since the students had done nothing wrong, I never thought that they would be brutally shot by machine guns,” Mar Mar said by phone on Monday.
By the time she and the students and teachers were able to take shelter in the classrooms, one teacher and a 7-year-old student had already been shot in the neck and head and Mar Mar had to use pieces of clothing to try to staunch the bleeding.
“They kept shooting into the compound from the air for an hour,” Mar Mar said. “They didn’t stop even for one minute. All we could do at that time was chant Buddhist mantras.”
When the air attack stopped, about 80 soldiers entered the monastery compound, firing their guns at the buildings.
The soldiers then ordered everyone in the compound to come out of the buildings. Mar Mar said she saw about 30 students with wounds on their backs, thighs, faces and other parts of the bodies. Some students had lost limbs.
“The children told me that their friends were dying,” she said. “I also heard a student yelling, ‘It hurts so much. I can’t take it any more. Kill me, please.’ This voice still echoes in my ears,” Mar Mar said.
She said at least six students were killed in the school and a 13-year-old boy working at a fishery in a nearby village was also fatally shot. At least six adults were also killed in the air attack in other parts of the village, she said. The bodies of the dead children were taken away by the soldiers.
More than 20 people, including nine wounded children and three teachers, were also taken by the soldiers, she said. Two of those captured were accused of being members of the anti-government People’s Defence Force, the armed wing of the resistance to the military.
Security forces also burned down a house in the village, causing residents to flee.
The army’s takeover last year triggered mass nonviolent protests across Myanmar. The military and police responded with deadly force, resulting in the spread of armed resistance in the cities and countryside. Fighting has been especially fierce in Sagaing, where the military has launched several offensives, in some cases burning villages, which displaced more than half a million people, according to a report issued by UNICEF this month.
A volunteer in Tabayin assisting displaced people who asked not to be identified because of fear of government reprisals said the bodies of the dead children were cremated by the soldiers in nearby Ye U township.
“I am now telling the international community about this because I want redress for our children,” Mar Mar said. “Instead of humanitarian aid, what we really need is genuine democracy and human rights.”
Myanmar Now, an online news service, and other independent Myanmar media also reported the attack and the students’ deaths.
A day after the attack, the state-run Myanma Alinn newspaper reported that security forces had gone to check the village after receiving information that the members of the People’s Defence Force were hiding there.
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors human rights in Myanmar, at least 2,298 civilians have been killed by the security forces since the army seized power last year.
The UN has documented 260 attacks on schools and education personnel since the coup, the UN Child Rights Committee said in June.