Activists say children have been killed and churches destroyed as Myanmar bombed ethnic Karen villages

Airstrikes on Myanmar
Houses were leveled by apparent military airstrikes on January 13, 2023 in Mutraw district, also known as Papun, in eastern Myanmar’s Karen state.

Karen Human Rights Group/AP

Bangkok – Airstrikes by Myanmar military on two villages mostly populated by ethnic Karen people killed five civilians, including a mother and her two-year-old daughter, and destroyed two churches, two aid agencies said on Friday. A Baptist church pastor, a Catholic deacon and a church layperson were among those killed in Thursday’s airstrikes, according to the Karen Women’s Organization and Free Burma Rangers. Another woman and her child were injured in a second village, it said.

Living mostly in eastern Myanmar along the border with Thailand, the Karen are one of the most established ethnic minority rebel groups and have been fighting for more autonomy from the central government for decades. Fighting increased after February 2021 when the army took power from the elected government Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Airstrikes are killing civilians and destroying homes, medical centers, churches, schools, libraries and monasteries,” the Karen women’s group said in a statement.

Airstrikes on Myanmar
A crater left by military airstrikes in Mutraw district, also known as Papun, in eastern Myanmar’s Karen state on January 13, 2023, according to humanitarian organizations.

Karen Human Rights Group/AP

The military used deadly force to quell peaceful protests against its takeover, which sparked armed resistance from pro-democracy forces aligned with some rebel ethnic groups, including the Karen. The government, installed by the military, then launched offensives in the countryside to try to secure the territory with airstrikes and burning villages.

The Government of National Unity, an underground organization that bills itself as the country’s legitimate government and serves as an umbrella organization for opponents of military rule, said in a statement this week that since the army took over, “460 innocent civilians, mostly children, have lost their… have lost lives due to repeated airstrikes (by the military).

The Free Burma Rangers said their volunteers watched from a distance as jets carried out two bombings on Thursday at Lay Wah, one of the attacked villages in Mutraw district of Karen state, also known as Papun. They said the volunteers arrived at Lay Wah after dark, where the five people died and the churches were vandalized.

“The first thing we saw at the end of the village was a buffalo with half its front leg ripped off stumbling about in agony, and we saw houses damaged by shrapnel and roofs blown off,” the group said in a statement.

The other village that was bombed was Paw Khee Lah, where a woman and a child were injured, according to the Karen women’s group.

As Karen villagers have become accustomed to living with war, they carry out many daily activities in the jungle, such as schooling. The Free Burma Rangers statement said that all the students would have died if they had been in their village classroom because the building had been completely destroyed.

A year since the bloody military takeover of Myanmar


The bombing in Karen state was the second reported air offensive by the Myanmar military this week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, military planes bombed the headquarters of the Chin National Front, another ethnic rebel militia closely linked to the country’s pro-democracy movement, in western Chin state.

Five members of the Chin National Army were killed Tuesday, Salai Htet Ni, a spokesman for the Chin National Front, said in a text message. Wednesday’s bombing damaged a clinic and other buildings in the camp, he said.

The resistance forces in Myanmar have been able to prevent the military from taking firm control of large parts of the country, but they are at a major weapons disadvantage, particularly when repelling airstrikes. Many Western nations have already imposed arms embargoes on the military rule, but activists also advocate banning or restricting the sale of aviation fuel to Myanmar to cripple the military’s advantage in air power. Activists say children have been killed and churches destroyed as Myanmar bombed ethnic Karen villages

Rick Schindler

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