At least 11 schoolchildren have been killed in an airstrike on a village in Myanmar, according to the United Nations Children’s Organization, in what could be the deadliest attack on children since the junta took power last year.
UN chief António Guterres condemned the strike on Tuesday, according to his office, which said the death toll had risen to at least 13 people, including the 11 students whose school was affected.
The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos since the military seized power in a coup in February 2021 that killed nearly 2,300 civilians in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group. The junta claims Friday’s deadly attack targeted rebels hiding in the area.
The Sagaing region in the country’s northwest has seen some of the fiercest fighting, and clashes between anti-coup fighters and the military have set fire to entire villages.
The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF condemned Friday’s violence in Sagaing’s Depeyin municipality.
“At least 11 children died on September 16 in an airstrike and random fire in civilian areas,” UNICEF said in a statement released Monday.
It said schools should be safe and never targeted.
“At least 15 children from the same school are still missing,” UNICEF said, calling for their immediate safe release.
Guterres, who hosted world leaders at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, “firmly condemns the attacks by Myanmar’s armed forces on a school in Let Yet Kone” and expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement. a statement.
Such attacks on schools in violation of international humanitarian law constitute “serious violations of children in times of armed conflict that are strongly condemned by the Security Council,” the Guterres spokesman said, calling for the perpetrators to be held accountable.
Video footage obtained from a local community group shows a classroom with blood on the floor, roof damage and a mother crying over her son’s dead body.
The junta said it sent troops in helicopters to Let Yet Kone after receiving a tip that fighters from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) — an ethnic rebel group — and a local anti-coup militia were moving weapons in the area.
The army accused the rebel fighters of using civilians as human shields and said it seized mines and explosives from the village.
“Security members provided necessary medical treatment and arranged to send patients to a nearby hospital,” the military said in a statement.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun accused the KIA on Tuesday of taking villagers to a monastery and firing on troops from there.
A villager contacted by AFP rejected the army’s suggestions that there were fighters in the area.
“They just attacked the school. They say someone attacked them, then they fought back, but this is not true,” said the villager, who wished to remain anonymous for their own safety.
The villager said the army had taken some of the bodies and detained several people, including children and teachers.
Hassan Noor, regional director of Save the Children Asia, said schools should be off limits during conflict.
“How many incidents like this have to happen before action is taken?” Noor urged the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to act quickly.
The ASEAN has so far made fruitless diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar. The group’s leaders will meet in Phnom Penh in November.