Death toll rises in Myanmar after a junta attack on Kant Balu Township

On Tuesday, tragedy struck Kant Balu township in Myanmar's Sagaing region.

Death toll rises in Myanmar after a junta attack on Kant Balu Township
Flowers hang during a nationwide flower campaign against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar April 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The backstory: In February 2021, the military took over the government in Myanmar and arrested the democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has since been slapped with a 33-year sentence. Now, the country's under the control of the military junta.  

More recently: Since then, people have been protesting against the coup, but the junta has been cracking down on these demonstrators, and things have gotten violent. The crisis has led to a shortage of basic things like food and fuel, and the region's economy has taken a big hit.

The development: On Tuesday, tragedy struck Kant Balu township in Myanmar's Sagaing region. Witnesses and local media reported that the military carried out air attacks, dropping bombs and firing on the village while people were gathered for the opening of a new town office. This town has been a vocal opponent of the military coup two years ago, and sadly, this attack is being called one of the deadliest since the military took control.

The latest reports suggest a death toll of around 100, including women and children. The National Unity Government (NUG) has called it a war crime and a "heinous act," but the military junta has remained silent when asked for a comment. Myanmar's junta later confirmed it carried out the attack, saying if civilians were killed, it was because they were being forced to help "terrorists."

Key comments:

"This morning, the Myanmar air force dropped multiple bombs on a civilian gathering of several hundred people while attack helicopters strafed the crowd," said Duwa Lashi La, the National Unity Government's acting president, in a statement.

"I was standing a short distance from the crowd when a friend of mine contacted me on the phone about the approach of a fighter jet," a witness said. "The jet dropped bombs directly on the crowd, and I jumped into a nearby ditch and hid. A few moments later, when I stood up and looked around, I saw people cut to pieces and dead in the smoke."

"The EU is deeply shocked by reports of the latest atrocity committed by the military regime in Sagaing, taking the lives of dozens of innocent civilians. We will continue to work to hold those responsible fully accountable," said Nabila Massrali, a spokesperson for the EU's foreign affairs and security policy.

"These violent attacks further underscore the regime's disregard for human life and its responsibility for the dire political and humanitarian crisis in Burma following the February 2021 coup," said Vedant Pate, US State Department spokesperson.

"During that opening ceremony, we conducted the attack. PDF members were killed. They are the ones opposing the government of the country, the people of the country," said Zaw Min Tun, a junta spokesman, to military broadcast channel Myawaddy.