BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military-led government on Tuesday denied reports it carried out an airstrike on a school in the country’s turbulent north-central region that killed at least seven children, accusing the media of distorting the truth .
Major General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling military council, acknowledged this during a press conference in the capital, Naypyitaw. that there had been fighting last Friday in Tabayin township in Sagaing region. However, he blamed armed opponents of the government for the casualties, which in addition to the children housed at the school included six adult villagers.
Witnesses told The Associated Press and other media that two helicopters fired machine guns and heavier weapons at a school at a Buddhist monastery in the village of Let Yet Kone attended by 240 students from kindergarten to junior high. 8th year taught by about twenty volunteer teachers.
A school administrator said that after about an hour of continuous gunfire, about 80 soldiers charged into the monastery compound, firing their weapons. The administrator, who used the pseudonym Mar Mar so as not to be identified by authorities, said about 30 children were injured and 20 were taken away by soldiers along with three teachers.
The number of children killed in the airstrike appears to be the highest in a single day since the military seized power in a coup in February last year toppling the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military takeover sparked mass nonviolent protests across the country, but when the military and police responded with lethal force, armed resistance erupted in towns and countryside.
The fighting was particularly fierce in Sagaing, where the army launched several offensives, in some cases burning down villages and displacing more than half a million people. There are six camps hosting displaced people in Tabayin, also known as Depayin.
Zaw Min Tun told reporters on Tuesday that the incident occurred when soldiers went to verify reports that there were armed members of the anti-government People’s Defense Forces and their Army allies. independence, a rebellious ethnic group, in Let Yet Kone. The People’s Defense Force was created last year to oppose military rule.
He said that the members of the armed groups gathered the villagers in the monastery before the fighting.
“They forced people to stay under the main monastery building. And then they started shooting at the security forces while using the villagers as human shields. The army fired back at them,” Zaw Min Tun said.
He said the army rescued those hiding at the monastery after the armed groups fled, and when the soldiers found two seriously injured children, they immediately airlifted them by helicopter to a military hospital. Other injured villagers were taken to nearby hospitals, he said.
He claimed that the stories of the attack on the school were made up just before the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, where Myanmar’s violent crisis will be debated.
His account of the incident was disputed by the school administrator.
“What Zaw Min Tun said at the press conference were untruthful words. Teaching students every day is our job. No one forced us into the monastery and there were no armed groups in the village,” Mar Mar said by telephone on Tuesday.