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Myanmar junta attack on school condemned as child death toll rises to 11
In this file photo taken on March 12, 2021, protesters hold up the three-finger salute and placards with the image of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi while using their mobile torches during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon. Myanmar's ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with a fresh criminal charge on April 12, 2021, as the junta's tough crackdown on dissent rolls on. (File photo: AFP)

At least 11 schoolchildren died in an air strike and firing on a Myanmar village, the United Nations children’s agency said. According to the country’s junta, the attack targeted rebels hiding in the area.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military seized power in a coup in February last year, with nearly 2,300 civilians killed in a crackdown on dissent according to a local monitoring group, the AFP reported, the Daily Times said.

The junta said they had sent troops in helicopters to Let Yet Kone after receiving a tip-off that fighters from the Kachin independence army (KIA) – an ethnic rebel group – and a local anti-coup militia were moving weapons in the area.

The military accused the rebel fighters of using civilians as human shields, and said it had seized mines and explosives from the village.

“Security members gave necessary medical treatment and arranged to send patients to a nearby hospital,” the military said in a statement.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military seized power in a coup in February last year, with nearly 2,300 civilians killed in a crackdown on dissent according to a local monitoring group

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun on Tuesday (Sep 20) accused the KIA of taking villagers to a monastery and then firing on troops from there.

A villager contacted by AFP rejected the military’s suggestions there were fighters in the area.

“They just attacked the school. They say someone attacked them, then they fought back but this is not true,” said the villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity for their own safety.

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The villager said the military had taken away some of the bodies and detained multiple people, including children and teachers.

The Sagaing region in the country’s northwest has seen some of the fiercest fighting, and clashes between anti-coup fighters and the military have seen entire villages burned down.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF condemned Friday’s violence (Sep 16) in Depeyin township in Sagaing.

UNICEF said in a statement issued Monday (Sep 19): “On 16 September, at least 11 children died in an air strike and indiscriminate fire in civilian areas."

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It said schools must be safe and never targeted.

“At least 15 children from the same school are still missing,” UNICEF said, calling for their immediate safe release.

UN chief António Guterres, who on Tuesday (Sep 20) was hosting world leaders at the UN general assembly, “strongly condemns the attacks by Myanmar armed forces on a school in Let Yet Kone” and offered his condolences to victims’ families, his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

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Such attacks on schools in contravention of international humanitarian law constitute “grave violations against children in times of armed conflict strongly condemned by the security council,” the Guterres spokesman said, calling for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

Video footage obtained from a local community group shows a classroom with blood on the floor, damage to the roof and a mother crying over her son’s dead body.

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