At least 53 people have lost their lives, as per survivors’ accounts, in one of the deadliest airstrikes carried out by the Myanmar military in the ongoing civil war. Among the victims, there are reportedly 15 women and several children, although the exact numbers cannot be independently verified by news analysts.
The targeted village in Sagaing region has been known for its opposition to the military government, and the attack is believed to be a part of the military’s increasing use of airstrikes against its opponents since seizing power in February 2021.
Sagaing has been a stronghold of resistance against military rule in Myanmar, with local communities forming their own militias and establishing their own schools and clinics. According to witnesses, a military jet dropped a bomb over the village around 7:00am, followed by a helicopter gunship that strafed the area for twenty minutes.
Videos uploaded by residents show gruesome scenes of devastation, with dismembered bodies strewn on the ground and buildings engulfed in flames. Despite the chaos, villagers can be heard in the videos shouting for survivors and offering help as they search through the debris. Counting the bodies has been challenging due to the extent of destruction, with remains scattered amidst burnt motorbikes and shredded clothing.
The village of Pa Zi Gyi had been bustling with people from nearby communities who had gathered to mark the opening of a new People’s Defence Forces (PDF) office. The PDFs are volunteer militias that have taken up arms against the military in various parts of Myanmar in response to the coup.
The civil war in Myanmar has already claimed thousands of lives, with an additional 1.4 million people displaced. The United Nations estimates that nearly a third of the country’s population is in need of humanitarian aid.
To counter resistance groups, the military government has increasingly relied on air attacks, utilizing Russian and Chinese aircraft, as its ground troops face challenges moving on roads due to ambushes and explosives. These airstrikes often result in higher casualties among civilians.
Data from the conflict-monitoring group Acled (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project) reveals that between February 2021 and January 2023, there were at least 600 air attacks by the military. The exiled National Unity Government, formed after the coup, reported that these attacks resulted in the deaths of 155 civilians from October 2021 to September 2022.
In October, at least 40 people were killed when air force jets dropped three bombs on a concert organized by an ethnic insurgent group in Kachin state. The previous month, an airstrike on a school in the village of Let Yet Kone in central Myanmar resulted in the deaths of at least five children and injuries to several others.
If the death toll in Pa Zi Gyi is confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest single incidents in the ongoing civil war. In response to armed resistance groups, General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military government, has vowed to deal decisively with what he describes as “acts of terror.”