The United Nations has condemned an attack against civilians in Myanmar’s Kayah state in which unknown assailants reportedly forced nearly three dozen people, including at least one child, from their vehicles, killed them and burned their bodies.
According to reports, junta forces killed at least 35 people and set their bodies alight along with their vehicles on the afternoon of Dec. 24 near Moso village in Kayah’s Hpruso township. Members of the ethnic Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) told RFA’s Myanmar Service that women and children were among those slaughtered.
News of the killings prompted a statement of condemnation on Sunday from Martin Griffiths, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, who said he was “horrified” by the reports and demanded a probe into the attack.
“I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” he said in a statement.
“I call upon the authorities to immediately commence a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident so that perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice. Moreover, I call upon the Myanmar Armed Forces and all armed groups in Myanmar to take all measures to protect civilians from harm.”
Myanmar was thrown into political crisis on Feb. 1 when the military seized power from the country’s democratically elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government in a coup. In the more than 10 months since, the military has killed at least 1,377 civilians and arrested nearly 8,300 others, mostly during widespread peaceful protests of the junta. The military has also launched offensives against several armed ethnic groups and prodemocracy People’s Defense Force militias in the country’s remote border regions.
Griffiths noted that amid the political chaos, “millions of people in Myanmar remain in dire need of humanitarian support,” and pledged continued assistance from the U.N. and its humanitarian partners.
As of Monday, 27 of those killed in the attack had been identified, although 14 people reported to be traveling in the area remain missing, including two workers with Save the Children, a U.K.-based aid organization. Save the Children’s Myanmar office confirmed over the weekend that a car used by their group was found burned near Moso village.
Ko Banya, the director of the Karenni Human Rights Group (KnHRG) told RFA that among the 14 missing are the two aid workers, four people from Hpruso township’s Lawgyar village, one from Kho-raku village, and seven from the state capital Loikaw, including a businessman.
He said it was difficult to confirm whether the missing people had been killed in an earlier incident or were among those burned, as the military reportedly tried to destroy evidence of the attack near Moso village.
The sister of a missing man told RFA on condition of anonymity that four people, including her younger brother, went missing while on their way to Loikaw from Lawgyar village to escape fighting between government troops and anti-junta forces.
“We had already fled the area. Our father, his younger brother, and his sister – the entire family. And then, they went back, saying they had to help one family that was left behind,” she said.
“My brother and three cousins went back in two cars and now they are missing.”
Junta spokesman and Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun confirmed on Monday that an incident had occurred in the area involving people “killed in the crossfire” between the military and unidentified “gunmen.”
“Our security forces encountered seven vehicles in the area, so they asked the vehicles to stop, but they refused and started to drive away. When our forces opened fire with small arms, they fired back at us,” he said.
“A group of about 20 gunmen fired on the security forces from the southwestern side. They even attacked us with an RPG. During the fighting, some vehicles caught fire and some people were shot dead. A total of 25 bodies were found there, 24 men and one woman. They all seem to be between 20 and 40 years of age.”
The Karenni State Advisory Council dismissed the account and issued a statement condemning the attack as “a crime against humanity committed by the junta,” saying it would pursue justice for the incident and urging the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take up the matter. The Karenni State Police, which operates under the Karenni State Advisory Council, said it was carrying out an investigation of the attack and would “let the world know what happened.”
Aid workers targeted
The day after the attack, Save the Children issued a statement from its main office in Yangon, announcing that its operations in Kayah state, as well as in Chin state and Magway region, had been suspended because of the incident. The organization did not immediately respond to requests by RFA for more information about its missing workers on Monday.
Care International, a Switzerland-based relief organization operating in Myanmar since 1995, condemned the Moso village attack and called for an immediate end to violence against civilians and aid workers.
An aid worker for war refugees in Kayah state urged the international community and the U.N. to do more than just condemn the killings in the country.
“We’ve tried to bear the consequences in the fight between Dhamma [good] and Adhamma [evil], as much as we can. We will go on to meet our fate,” said the worker, who declined to be named.
“But we want to ask: how can the international community get involved with us? Will they really continue to stand by because of a foreign policy of noninterference? Will the EU and the U.N. just go on saying they are concerned and that they condemn such acts? Is that all they will do?”
Ya Enna, general secretary of the Dawkalu Network, which helps refugees in Kayin state, confirmed to RFA on Monday that his organization would also be suspending relief efforts due to the Moso village incident and the attack on relief workers.
“It’s so sad to see all of this. We feel so sorry and just have to pray that this kind of tragedy does not happen in our area,” he said.
“There was once a young man from our group who was helping refugees. This young man was arrested, tortured, and hospitalized. He later died. It’s so terrifying to be caught by the military. We are so worried that our members will be arrested.”
An aid worker, who worked in Chin state and Magway region and was nearly arrested by the military, condemned the killings, and told RFA that she would continue her mission, despite her fears.
“We cannot stop working because of such tragic events. No matter how hard it is, we must go on,” she said.
“We have escaped arrest more than four or five times. My husband was once even taken [but released] ... As a woman, I’m scared, but the fear always goes away. I’m sure I’ll be there for the rest of my life. I also want others to be involved until the end.”
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