The Myanmar military killed at least 28 civilians in an air strike on a displaced persons camp in an attack that may amount to a war crime, Amnesty International said on Friday.
At approximately 11.30pm on 9 October 2023, the Myanmar military launched an attack that hit the Mung Lai Hkyet displacement camp, close to the town of Laiza in Kachin State, near Myanmar’s border with China, the Amnesty said in a statement.
“Witnesses told Amnesty International that a large bomb exploded near the camp, which was followed by sustained mortar fire from nearby Myanmar military positions. The world must wake up to the horror unfolding daily in Myanmar,” said Matthew Wells, Director of Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Programme
The camp is home to an estimated 150 displaced families and situated near other civilian homes in Mung Lai Hkyet village. The camp is around three miles from central Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A), an ethnic armed group that has fought the Myanmar military for decades.
“This murderous assault by the Myanmar military is further proof of their complete disregard for civilian life,” said Matthew Wells.
“The air strike on the Mung Lai Hkyet displaced persons camp is the latest in a long list of indiscriminate attacks against civilians committed by the Myanmar military since its coup in 2021, many of which amount to war crimes.
“The world must wake up to the horror unfolding daily in Myanmar. The UN Security Council should impose a long-overdue arms embargo, including on the supply of aviation fuel, as the Myanmar military repeatedly unleashes its arsenal on civilians across the country.”
Amnesty International’s weapons expert analyzed photos and videos of the aftermath of the attack, which show evidence of a single massive blast that flattened dozens of nearby buildings – including a church, preschool and many homes – and started fires.
The blast wave caused catastrophic overpressure and fragmentation injuries to the victims, including fatal wounds to heads, lacerations that exposed organs, and the removal and pulverization of limbs. The size of the crater and observed damage is consistent with the largest aerial-delivered bombs known to be in the inventory of the Myanmar military.
Amnesty International believes the Myanmar military almost certainly used an unguided bomb, which is an inaccurate weapon completely inappropriate for use in the vicinity of civilians.
The Myanmar military denied responsibility in a statement, saying it was an explosion of a site where the KIO/A stored ammonium nitrate. That explanation is at odds with consistent witness accounts, which noted the explosion served as the start of a coordinated attack. In addition, the bomb fell on a large open field with regular vehicle traffic, unlikely to be an ammonium nitrate storage area.
Based on the totality of the evidence, Amnesty International finds the most likely scenario to be a strike with a single unguided bomb. The Myanmar military has an extensive history of carrying out indiscriminate attacks similar to this one, including on other displaced persons camps.
Under international humanitarian law, which applies to the ongoing non-international armed conflicts in Myanmar, including in Kachin State, indiscriminate attacks are those that fail to distinguish between military objectives and civilians or civilian objects, and as such are prohibited. Where an indiscriminate attack kills or injuries civilians, it amounts to a war crime, the statement added.