After Myanmar military helicopters opened fire, primary school student Foni Tay Za and her cousin, Lin Lin, ran to hide behind a tamarind tree in their school yard, which is located in the courtyard of a monastery, in Let Yat Kone village in the central region of Sagaing. region.
It was almost over on September 16. The kids were jamming in the last few minutes of their game before they got to class.
The gunfire from the helicopter continued for about an hour, according to witnesses, and at one point Phone Tay Za decided to remove his bag from his classroom.
The seven-year-old reached the bag but was beaten when he tried to escape.
“He called me as he lay bleeding… ‘Come and get me, I’m injured’,” Lin Lin, who survived the attack, told the Irrawaddy website.
I warned him not to go get the bag.
A teacher at the school told a Radio Free Asia reporter that when he saw Phone Tay Za, “his arm was missing and his feet had holes”. The boy’s mother reached the spot soon after. “He kept saying, ‘Mom, I’m in a lot of pain.’ I just want to die,” the teacher said.
Foni Tay Za was among the seven children killed in Let Yet Kone that day. 6 adults also died.
The Myanmar military said the school was legitimate. Since seizing power in a coup two years ago, the military has been battling various opposition groups, including armed groups, the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) and a group of politicians it has ousted. National Unity Government (NUG). He said the PDF and the rebel Kachin Independence Army, whom he called “terrorists”, were using the school building to attack his soldiers.
But investigators from the United Nations said the airstrike could amount to a “war crime”.
According to UN figures, the Let Yet Kone attack was one of 670 air strikes carried out by the Myanmar military last year – a number that shows an increase of 12 from the 54 attacks carried out last year.
Other attacks include the bombing of a terrorist training camp, which killed five militants in Chin state on the Indian border in January, and an airstrike on a music concert in KIA territory in October, which killed nearly 80 people.
A Myanmar soldier on a bombing mission on the Thai border in June last year, meanwhile, caused panic in Thailand when he crossed the border, with authorities ordering the evacuation of villages and schools in the area.
At least 460 people have died in last year’s violence, according to the Irrawaddy, while the two-year conflict has killed an estimated 31,022 people – civilians and combatants – according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).
The UN estimates that another 1.1 million people have fled their homes, mostly due to terrorist attacks.
As the threat mounts, the NUG and human rights activists have called for a ban on the sale of jet fuel to Myanmar, even if this means the establishment of civilian flights. The NUG, in a statement after the bombing of a Chin rebel camp in January, called the ban “necessary and necessary that could save thousands of lives”.
As the military ramps up its air campaign, its air force has been flying every two weeks or so, said Zachary Abuza, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at the National War College in the United States.
The military relies on several aircraft for this mission, he said, including Yak-130 training aircraft and 30 MIG-29 fighter jets from Russia. Recently, it deployed two advanced SU-30 fighter jets, also from Russia, and brought in long-range weapons, including mobile weapons and several rockets, from China.
“This will give the soldiers a chance to fight for a long time. Now they can attack from a distance with little protection, which they could not do before,” said Abuza. “And right now, the NUG has no way to deal with this – not easily. And [the air raids] having a psychological effect on it. They kill people. They increase the level of fear. “
However, the increase in air strikes shows “weaknesses”, Abuza told Al Jazeera. “I quietly admit that they can’t put boots on the ground all the time. It’s just that there are a lot of areas where they don’t go, where they don’t have enough personnel to go in and fight and win.”
Brother Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar says that two years after the violence, the military controls “less than half of Myanmar”.
Since General Min Aung Hlaing seized power on February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s armed forces – many of whom have fought on the border since independence from Britain in 1948 – have stepped up their operations, Andrews said. he said in a recent report.
The newly formed PDFs have “repeatedly challenged” the military’s control of the central plains of Myanmar, he said, including the areas of Mandalay, Magwe and Sagaing, where the village of Let Yet Kone is located.
The violence taking place in the Dry Zone, as the region is known, is unprecedented, said Shona Loong, a lecturer at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. In addition to increasing airstrikes, the military has increased damage to infrastructure there, particularly by destroying buildings and villages on the ground, according to Loong’s investigation in October.
The PDF, numbering 654 in the Dry Zone alone, responded with bombings, assassinations and ambushes.
“Both sides see it as an ongoing war,” Loong said. “And in denial, the airstrikes and brutality of the fight against insurgents have only strengthened the view that the military is not the right ruler of Myanmar.”
‘Unacceptable and inadequate’
Amnesty International is among the rights groups supporting the NUG’s call to ban the sale of jet fuel.
The prominent rights group, in a report published in November, said its investigation found that Myanmar’s military diverts jet fuel for civilian use. It said that the companies supplying the oil include Singapore Petroleum Company’s PetroChina, Russia’s Rosneft, Chevron Singapore and Thai Oil. ExxonMobil of the US was also linked with a separate shipment.
The United Kingdom and Canada responded with sanctions on the aviation fuel sector.
Ottawa on Wednesday banned the export, sale, supply or transfer of aviation fuel to the Myanmar military, while the UK government suspended the supply of two companies and people associated with Asia Sun, a local company involved in the maintenance, storage and distribution of aircraft. oil in the country.
Montse Ferrer, a trade and human rights researcher at Amnesty, called the UK and Canada sanctions “an important step”, but said more countries should join in – especially the US, because most of Myanmar’s jet fuel suppliers were American.
Actions should also be more inclusive, he said, to be consistent with all delivery methods.
“It has been two years since the air attack. But the international response was not acceptable and not enough,” Ferrer told Al Jazeera.
“We have Canada banning jet fuel, and the UK is choosing two companies and two people out of companies that we’ve already identified more than 30 that have been involved in the past two years,” he said.
“It all seems incomplete on our part.”