The military launched the strikes on Tuesday in the Sagaing area in northwest Myanmar, in one of the deadliest incidents of the civil war so far.
A spokesperson for the military junta, General Zaw Min Tun, told state television that the attack targeted an inaugural ceremony for an office organised by the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow administration, and was aimed at “restoring peace and stability” in the region.
He said the village of Pazigyi was attacked because it was holding a ceremony to mark the opening of an office for their local volunteer defence force.
"During that opening ceremony, we conducted the attack. PDF (People's Defence Force) members were killed. They are the ones opposing the government of the country, the people of the country," said Gen Zaw Min Tun.
"According to our ground information we hit the place of their weapons' storage and that exploded and people died due to that," he said.
Referring to accusations of civilian casualties, he said "some people who were forced to support them probably died as well".
The PDF said it had cremated about 100 bodies, including 16 children, while the exact toll remained unclear.
Myanmar has been gripped by 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 is increasingly using airstrikes to counter a widespread armed struggle against its rule.
According to witnesses, a fighter jet dropped bombs directly into a crowd of people who were gathering at 8am for the opening of the office. Half an hour later, a helicopter appeared and fired at the site.
"I was standing a short distance from the crowd when a friend of mine contacted me on the phone about the approach of a fighter jet," a witness, who did not want to be named, told the Associated Press.
“The jet dropped bombs directly on the crowd, and I jumped into a nearby ditch and hid. A few moments later, when I stood up and looked around, I saw people cut to pieces and dead in the smoke. The office building was destroyed by fire.
"About 30 people were injured. While the wounded were being transported, a helicopter arrived and shot more people. We are now cremating the bodies quickly.”
UN human rights chief Volker Turk condemned the attack in a message before the junta’s statement, saying it “appears schoolchildren performing dances, as well as other civilians ... were among the victims”.
Mr Zaw Min Tun said photographs showed some of those killed were in uniform and some in civilian clothes, accusing the PDF of falsely claiming civilian deaths. He also accused members of the PDF of committing "war crimes" and killing "monks, teachers and innocent residents" in the area who did not support the opposition.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned attack and called for those responsible to be held accountable. Mr Guterres “reiterates his call for the military to end the campaign of violence against the Myanmar population throughout the country”, his spokesperson said.
Amnesty International responded to the attack by calling on the international community to suspend exports of aviation fuel to Myanmar. The group has previously described countries that are continuing these exports, including India, as being “complicit” in the junta’s war crimes.
“While some meaningful action has been taken, the international community can and must do more to stop attacks on civilians in Myanmar,” said Amnesty researcher Montse Ferrer.
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