Photographs said to have been taken at the scene, in
Kayah state, show the charred remains of bodies in the back of three trucks.
According to the aid group, Save the Children, a car that two of its staff members
had been using to drive home for the holidays was among a dozen or so charred
vehicles at the scene. The staff members are now missing, the group said.
“We are horrified at the violence carried out against
innocent civilians and our staff, who are dedicated humanitarians, supporting
millions of children in need across Myanmar,” Save the Children’s chief
executive, Inger Ashing, said in a statement Saturday.
The army, which ruled Myanmar for nearly half a
century before granting civilian leaders some power a decade ago, seized full
control again in a Feb 1 coup and has since mounted a vicious crackdown against
its opponents, some of whom have taken up arms. The army, known as the
Tatmadaw, has a long history of committing atrocities against civilians.
The junta said in a statement Friday that the vehicles
found at the scene had not stopped for inspection as ordered and that some
“terrorists” in the group had begun shooting at soldiers, who returned fire.
The statement did not mention the burning of any
vehicles or bodies. A spokesman for the military could not be reached for
The US Embassy in Myanmar said on Twitter that it was
“appalled by this barbaric attack in Kayah state that killed at least 35
civilians, including women and children.”
“We will continue to press for accountability for the
perpetrators of the ongoing campaign of violence against the people of Burma,”
the embassy added, using Myanmar’s former name.
The killings took place about 150 miles southeast of
Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, near a military-controlled area of Kayah state
where the Karenni ethnic group has long sought autonomy from the central
For decades, the military has battled intermittently
with several armed Karenni groups, one of the many conflicts it has waged
against ethnic militias around the country. Since the coup, the fighting in
Kayah state has escalated.
Save the Children said that at least 38 people had
been killed in the incident Friday morning, which took place near the village of
Moso in the Hpruso township, a Christian community. The National Unity
Government, a shadow administration formed by elected officials ousted after
the coup, put the number of dead at 35 to 40.
According to the unity government, troops were
conducting a “clearance operation” in the township, a brutal method that the
military has often used to drive residents from an area, including during the
2017 campaign against Rohingya Muslims that has been widely characterised as
ethnic cleansing. In such operations, villagers are often killed
indiscriminately and their homes burned.
On Friday, according to the National Unity Government,
troops blocked the road outside Moso, trapped residents who were fleeing in
cars and tractors, bound them and burned them alive, in what the shadow
government called a “Christmas massacre.”
Four members of the junta’s border guard force, who
were in the area, tried to intervene and negotiate the release of the
villagers, but the soldiers shot and killed them, according to the unity
government and the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, one of the armed groups
operating in Kayah state.
The border guards’ bodies were not among those burned,
said Gway Ba Yar, a spokesman for the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, who
said that he had gone to the scene and whose photographs have been widely
distributed. His pictures show four dead men in border guard uniforms with
their hands tied behind their backs.
Ba Nya, a spokesman for the Karenni Human Rights
Group, who said that he had also visited the scene, said he believed that
several children, including an infant, were among those killed, based on the
children’s clothing he said had been strewn on the road.
“This is a brutal war crime committed by the Myanmar
military,” Ba Nya said.
The unity government, known as the NUG, has accused
the junta of using “extreme terror tactics” against civilians. This month, it
said, soldiers burned alive at least 11 people, including five children, in the
Sagaing region, an area in northwestern Myanmar where many residents have
mounted an armed resistance to the coup.
“As the world celebrates Christmas and its message of
peace, the NUG repeats its demands on the international community to act
immediately and decisively to end the military junta’s escalating war crimes
and crimes against humanity against the Myanmar people,” the group said.
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