Two-month-old baby among 29 dead in Myanmar artillery attack on refugee camp

‘Horrendous attack’ destroyed everything in camp housing 300 families, shadow government tells The Independent

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Tuesday 10 October 2023 07:34 BST
Related: Myanmar police use water cannon on military coup protesters

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A two-month-old baby is among the 29 victims of a devastating airstrike on a refugee camp in northern Myanmar, which the country’s shadow government has condemned as a war crime by the military.

The National Unity Government (NUG) – a shadow administration operating from exile after a 2021 military coup – said the junta government launched an attack on a village near the town of Laiza in Kachin State at 11.30pm (local time) on Monday.

The junta has denied responsibility for the attack and said it is investigating.

Multiple long-range artillery were fired on the camp housing around 300 internally displaced families, NUG spokesperson Kyaw Zaw told The Independent.

"The bombing was so powerful that everything in the area was destroyed," he said, adding that many women and children were among the victims. At least 56 people are undergoing care at local medical facilities, he said.

Calling the incident a "war crime", Mr Zaw said the NUG strongly condemned the "horrendous attack" on civilians.

The United Nations in Myanmar on Tuesday said it was deeply concerned about reports of deaths of civilians at a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in northern Kachin state.

“The UN in Myanmar is deeply concerned by initial reports from Kachin that civilians, including women and children, have been killed and injured in a bombing,” it said on Facebook.

“IDP camps are places of refuge, and civilians, no matter where they are, should never be a target.”

The military in a statement on Tuesday morning denied being involved in the attack. “We are investigating. We always take care of the border peace situation,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told Yangon-based People Media.

Myanmar has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since the junta led by General Min Aung Hlaing wrested power by overthrowing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a 2021 February coup. The military has been accused of increasingly using airstrikes to counter a widespread armed struggle against its rule.

More than one million people have been displaced since the coup, the United Nations estimates.

The Kachin Independence Army, which controls swathes of the state, suspects it could be a drone strike as they "didn't hear the sound of any aircraft flying past before the attack".

"I was told the bomb was dropped right on the camp," spokesperson Col Naw Bu told Myanmar Now.

The NUG believes the attack to be a retaliation as the junta continued to suffer losses in fighting the rebel forces in Kachin State, which has a long history of unrest. "Not only are they attacking the displaced people, they are also disrespecting the Chinese border as the neighbour wants a stable border before their Belt and Road summit," Mr Zaw said.

"We are working with our Kachin ethnic allies in supporting victims and families," he said, urging the international aid organisations to provide assistance in the region.

Images published by local media showed the entire camp being reduced to rubble, with make-shift houses and cars destroyed. Other images showed nearly two dozen bodies in bags lined up on the floor.

Monday's strike is the deadliest since the junta attacked the Sagaing region in April, killing over 100 people, including children. The junta claimed it attacked the village of Pazigyi because it was holding a ceremony to mark the opening of an office for their local volunteer defence force.

In October 2022, the junta bombed a community event held by the Kachin Independence Organisation in Hpakant Township, killing at least 80 people.

A report published by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo in June claimed that more than 6,000 civilians had been killed in nearly two years of the conflict following the military coup in the country.

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