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Call for probe into Myanmar junta's war crimes

The military junta killed 17 civilians and damaged a school and a church in an airstrike on Jan. 7, Amnesty claimed
An otherwise busy street in Yangon wears a deserted look during a 'silent strike' to mark the third anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1.

An otherwise busy street in Yangon wears a deserted look during a 'silent strike' to mark the third anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 08, 2024 11:30 AM GMT
Updated: February 09, 2024 04:22 AM GMT

Myanmar's military should face trial for war crimes for killing 17 civilians, including nine children, and damaging a school and a church in an alleged airstrike last month, said a global rights group.

The airstrike that killed 17 civilians who gathered to attend a church service on Jan. 7 must be probed for war crimes, Amnesty International said on Feb.7.

The alleged airstrike at around 10.30 a.m. damaged St. Peter Baptist Church, a school, and six houses in Kanan village in the western Sagaing region, bordering India.

The deceased nine children were Christians and two of them were killed while playing football. The children were killed in the first set of explosions and many victims were trying to run to safety when the second airstrike hit them, the rights body said.

At least 20 people were wounded in the deadly bombings in the embattled region, which is currently under the control of armed rebels, it said.

Kanan village is located on the highway between Kalay and Tamu. The village is home to about 2,000 people, mostly Christians. Since Nov. 7 last year, the area has been under the control of rebel groups that included armed ethnic Christians.

A genocide case filed by Gambia is already pending in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Myanmar’s army, which seized power in February 2021 by toppling the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi. 

In November 2023, several countries, including Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, came forward to support Gambia against Myanmar at the ICJ over the death of thousands of Rohingya women, children and men in military attacks in 2017.

Under the Hague Convention on Warfare, places of worship along with hospitals and educational institutions are protected. An attack on them is considered a war crime. At least 4,485 civilians have been killed since the coup.

On Feb. 6 the nine-member United Nations Security Council condemned “indiscriminate” airstrikes by the military against civilians while discussing efforts to implement a peace deal that has so far been largely ineffective in the civil war-hit Southeast Asian nation. 

All these legal and diplomatic developments are unfolding as the military is reportedly facing potentially catastrophic losses on the battlefield after ethnic armed groups have gained the upper hand in various parts of the country following the success of Operation 1027 in October last year.

The vital Sagaing region has witnessed brutal assaults by the military as part of its long-held strategy of “four cuts” that separate its opponents from their potential civilian supporters.

The army has denied the allegations of conducting airstrikes on Kanan village and dismissed the reported airstrike as “fake news.”

However, the rights group interviewed four witnesses and analyzed 99 photos and videos, including images of those killed and injured in the bombings.

All of the structural damage caused to the school, the church and nearby homes is consistent with airstrikes, the rights group claimed.

Evidence indicates at least three impact locations with craters consistent with aircraft bombs of approximately 250 kg each, the group noted.

It claimed that satellite imagery also corroborated airstrikes.

Amnesty International reviewed a video that showed the distinctive “swept-wing silhouette of a China-made A-5 fighter jet flying over the village.”

“When we hear the sound of a motorbike, we are now frightened. The attack has left emotional scars. We can’t go to the church,” a witness from Kanan village told Amnesty.

Matt Wells, director of Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Program, said the deadly attacks on civilians show “no signs of stopping.”

“The world cannot continue to look the other way while the Myanmar military relentlessly attacks civilians and civilian targets, including churches, schools and hospitals,” Wells said in a Feb.7 statement.

These attacks must be investigated as war crimes, and the UN Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICJ, Wells demanded.

Four children were killed and at least 15 others wounded in an alleged airstrike by the junta on schools in Kayah state on Feb.5.

Christians make up 6 percent of Myanmar's population of 54 million, 89 percent of which is Buddhist.

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