The ruling military junta of Myanmar (Burma) carried out an airstrike in the country’s northern Kachin State over the weekend, killing at least eighty people, according to AP.
The attack reportedly targeted a concert in Kachin, according to a statement released by the Kachin Artists’ Association (KAA). The statement claimed that between 300 and 500 people were present at the concert, including members of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a separatist faction active in Kachin. The concert was put on as part of a three-day celebration commemorating the KIO’s foundation in 1961.
Initial reports after the strike reported that fifty people had been killed in the attack. This number was revised upward to eighty by Monday. Although the KAA statement claimed that civilians were killed, it remains unclear how many of the casualties were civilians and how many were members of the KIO. The KAA also claimed that an additional 100 people had been injured in the strike.
Although Burmese state television did not mention the attack, the junta’s information office reported in a statement that an airstrike had targeted the headquarters of the Ninth Brigade of the Kachin Independence Army, the KIO’s armed wing. The statement characterized the bombing as a “necessary operation” carried out against a “terrorist” group. It denied that the military had attacked a concert, and insisted that no civilians had been killed in the strike.
The attack was swiftly condemned by the international community, with the United Nations mission in Myanmar describing it as an “excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians.” A joint statement published by more than a dozen foreign missions in the country, including the United States and the United Kingdom, claimed that the attack “underscores the military regime’s responsibility for crisis and instability … and its disregard for its obligation to protect civilians.”
Rebels in Kachin have fought a low-level war for independence from Myanmar for more than six decades. However, violence in the region substantially increased after February 2021, when the democratically-elected Burmese government of President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown in a military coup. After the military junta cracked down on a series of massive anti-coup protests, many participants joined regional separatist groups, strengthening secessionist movements in Myanmar’s outer periphery.
The Burmese military junta, led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, has attempted to crush the separatists over the past eighteen months without success. Over the same time period, the Burmese military has been repeatedly implicated in war crimes, including the killing of international aid workers within Myanmar.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.