Army helicopters supporting the military junta that seized power in Myanmar more than a year ago reportedly killed at least 13 people, including 11 children, and wounded many others in an hour-long attack on a school housed inside a Buddhist monastery on 16 September. Reports indicate that more than 200 children were attending the school at the time. Some of the victims were killed during the airstrike, while others reportedly died after troops entered the village on foot.
According to media reports, the military said it had fired on the village school in Depayin Township, in the central Sagaing Region, because anti-junta rebels were using the building to attack its forces.
Regime troops are reported to have been attacking villages in the area since last year as Sagaing Region is one of Myanmar’s main anti-regime strongholds. The military has reportedly been raiding civilian areas and calling in artillery and air strikes, causing tens of thousands of local residents to flee their homes.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement on 20 September condemning the attack. “Even in times of armed conflict, schools must remain areas in which children are granted protection and a safe place to learn,” Guterres’s statement said. “Attacks on schools and hospitals in contravention of international humanitarian law also constitute one of the six grave violations against children, in times of armed conflict strongly condemned by the Security Council.” (The Irrawaddy)
The military-led State Administrative Council has sought to consolidate its hold on power in the wake of last year’s coup by conducting violent crackdowns on public dissent and street demonstrations, which have continued in defiance of the military-led suppression. Even the country’s venerated Buddhist monastic sangha have found themselves in the military’s crosshairs.* Despite more than 18 months of violent suppression, the junta continues to face widespread opposition to its rule. Crackdowns on peaceful protest movements have resulted in a rise in communities turning to armed resistance, often with support from existing ethnic militia groups.
UNICEF Myanmar also condemned the school attack in a in a statement issued on 19 September: “On 16 September, at least 11 children died in an air strike and indiscriminate fire in civilian areas. At least 15 children from the same school are still missing. UNICEF calls for their immediate and safe release.” (Mizzima, RFA)
According to media reports, military personnel removed the bodies of seven children who were killed in the initial airstrike, as well as those who were injured. The injured children were taken to a traditional medicine hospital, while the bodies of the dead were cremated the following day. Two more bodies were reportedly cremated later the same day, which local residents said might have been from among the students taken for medical treatment.
“Some of the children taken with the vehicle had their lower body parts or limbs severed,” said a village resident who went to the temple school following the airstrike. “A [dismembered] child was wrapped and put in a bamboo basket [used as backpacks by Myanmar military troops]. There were pools of blood inside the school. Pieces of flesh were scattered all over the place, on fans, on the walls and on the ceiling.” (The Irrawaddy)
Myanmar’s military declared a state of emergency on 1 February 2021, after detaining President Win Myint, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other members of the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The coup d’état took place just hours before the country’s new parliament was due to convene following a general election in November 2020, during which the NLD made substantial electoral gains.
The military, which had backed the parliamentary opposition in the national election, asserted that it staged the coup in response to electoral fraud, however the national election commission reported that there was no evidence to support these claims. The NLD won around 80 per cent of the available parliamentary seats in the 2020 vote.
Despite more than a year of violent suppression, the junta continues to face widespread opposition to its rule. Crackdowns on peaceful protests and a civil disobedience movement (CDM) have resulted in a rise in armed civilian resistance, often with support from existing ethnic militia groups.
In response to the crisis, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists has joined hands with the Clear View Project based in in Berkley, California, to launch an international appeal for urgent humanitarian relief for Buddhist monks and nuns living in the shadow of the junta.**
“The International Network of Engaged Buddhists and the US-based Clear View Project are coordinating an urgent appeal to raise funds to support the humanitarian emergency in Myanmar that focuses on Buddhist monks and nuns,” INEB said in a message shared with BDG. “[In February 2021] the Myanmar military staged what they considered would be a ‘quick coup’ in which democratically elected members of government, including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were detained. Since that time, the country has been in turmoil with the people responding by taking a civil disobedience movement to cities and villages across Myanmar.”
The Myanmar- and Thailand-based human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reported that as of 22 September, 2,311 people involved in pro-democracy movements were confirmed to have been killed by the military junta. The organization noted that the figure represented only deaths that the AAPP could independently verify and that the actual number was likely to be much higher. A total of 12,462 people were known to be in detention, including 84 post-coup death-row prisoners. Altogether, 126 people have been sentenced to death—some in absentia, the AAPP said.
About 89.8 per cent of Myanmar’s population identify as Buddhists, according to census data for 2016. Christians make up 6.3 per cent, Muslims 2.3 per cent, and Hindus 0.5 per cent, with tribal and other religions comprising 1 per cent. Groups representing all religious communities—including monastics and clergy—have taken to the streets and demonstrated against the military takeover.
* Buddhist Monastics Targeted in Ongoing Crackdown by Myanmar’s Military Junta (BDG), Myanmar Junta Drops Plan to Place Buddhist Monks on Military Roadblocks (BDG)
** INEB, Clear View Project Launch Humanitarian Appeal for Buddhist Monastics in Myanmar (BDG)
Eleven Children Killed, Many Injured as Myanmar Junta Helicopter, Troops Attack Monastery (The Irrawaddy)
UN Chief Condemns Myanmar Junta School Attack (The Irrawaddy)
Myanmar army helicopters fire on school, killing 13, media and residents say (Reuters)
Eleven schoolchildren killed in Myanmar air strike (Mizzima)
Teachers recount carnage of Myanmar school helicopter attack (Mizzima)
Junta chopper attack on school kills 7 in Myanmar’s Sagaing region (RFA)
Daily Briefing in Relation to the Military Coup (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners)
Statement Calling for Solidarity and Preserving the Sanctity of Life in Myanmar (International Network of Engaged Buddhists)
URGENT APPEAL for Humanitarian Relief to support Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Myanmar’s Political Movement Against Military Dictatorship (International Network of Engaged Buddhists)
Related news reports from BDG
Report: Nearly 60 Buddhist Monks Detained in Myanmar Since Military Seized Power
International Network of Engaged Buddhists Issues Statement Urging Compassion and an End to Violence in Myanmar
Four Buddhist Monks Killed During Military Strike in Myanmar
Buddhist Monk, Civilians Killed as Junta Troops Raze Villages in Northern Myanmar
Myanmar Junta Has Destroyed Over 100 Buddhist Monasteries, Christian Churches – Report
Hundreds of Buddhist Monks Flee Temples in Eastern Myanmar as Violence Escalates
Engaged Buddhism: INEB Launches Sangha for Peace to Tackle Regional Religious and Ethno-Nationalist Tensions
Religious Leaders in Myanmar Decry Persecution by Military Junta
80-Year-Old Monk Becomes a Symbol of Hope for Myanmar Buddhists
Myanmar Junta Drops Plan to Place Buddhist Monks on Military Roadblocks
Buddhist Monastics Targeted in Ongoing Crackdown by Myanmar’s Military Junta
INEB, Clear View Project Launch Humanitarian Appeal for Buddhist Monastics in Myanmar
Engaged Buddhism: INEB Shares Final Report on Mindful Action: COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund
UPDATE: INEB Calls for Reconciliation in Myanmar as Pro-democracy Protests Turn Violent
Related features from BDG
Myanmar: A Month into the Coup
The Other Shoe Drops: Reflections on Myanmar’s Latest Coup
A Reflection on the Intellectual and Socio-Cultural History of Buddhism in Myanmar
Sea of Suffering: The Rohingya and the Conundrum of Buddhist Terror
Buddhistdoor View: Reconciling Nationalism and Buddhism