ASEAN ‘strongly condemns’ deadly Myanmar air attack

Regional bloc calls for an end to use of force against civilians as media reports say up to 100 people may have died in Pa Zi Gyi.

Aftermath of strike on Pa Zi Gyi village
Photo provided by the Kyunhla Activists Group shows aftermath of this week's air attack on a village in Sagaing Region [Kyunhla Activists Group via AP Photo]

Southeast Asian nations have strongly condemned the Myanmar military’s bombing of a village in the central Sagaing region that killed dozens of people, including children.

The statement from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday came a day after the Myanmar military confirmed the air attack on a ceremony held by the National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel administration, for a unit of its People’s Defence Force (PDF) militia.

The United Nations, the United States and others have already condemned the attack by the generals who seized power from the elected government in a coup in February 2021.

“ASEAN strongly condemns the reported recent air strikes carried out by the Myanmar Armed Forces in Pa Zi Gyi village,” the regional bloc said.

“All forms of violence must end immediately, particularly the use of force against civilians,” it said.

“This would be the only way to create a conducive environment for an inclusive national dialogue to find a sustainable peaceful solution in Myanmar.”

Media reports said as many as 100 people were killed when fighter jets dropped bombs on the community hall on Tuesday morning. Witnesses said helicopter gunships followed, shooting at survivors and hindering rescue efforts.

One villager who spoke to AFP news agency estimated about 80 bodies had been cremated on Wednesday, with rescuers halting efforts to recover roughly 40 more bodies “because we were afraid of more air strikes”.

If confirmed, the toll would make the attack the deadliest since the military under Senior General Min Aung Hlaing removed the government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Many of the legislators the generals overthrew are part of the NUG.

ASEAN, a 10-member regional bloc that includes Myanmar and has a long-held principle of staying out of its members’ sovereign affairs, is leading diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

But the regional bloc, which agreed on a five-point peace plan with Min Aung Hlaing shortly after the coup, has made little progress.

The peace plan calls for an end to hostilities and inclusive dialogue but violence in the country has only escalated.

The attack in Pa Zi Gyi came days after heavy fighting in the southern Karen state sent thousands fleeing across the border into Thailand.

Rights groups say the conflict has killed thousands and led to the displacement of some 1.2 million people across Myanmar. Two years after the coup, PDFs and ethnic armed groups opposed to the military continue to deny it control over vast swathes of the country.

Min Aung Hlaing, however, has refused to engage with the NUG, calling his opponents “terrorists” out to destroy the country.

ASEAN has punished Myanmar for the lack of progress on the peace plan by barring it from the bloc’s summits but some members have called for tougher action.

The bloc is chaired by Indonesia this year.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, during a visit to the Philippines in March, said ASEAN must prove it is “relevant” in helping to resolve the crisis in Myanmar and called on the bloc to be more assertive.

“We can’t see this as a purely internal issue, so I have appealed to friends in ASEAN to say, look we have to be tougher,” Anwar told the ANC news channel. “If necessary engage with the armed forces of this country because sometimes the military junta do not understand the civilian narrative.”

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir on Wednesday expressed “concern” and said Malaysia was “against any form of violence taking place now in Myanmar and that is the position of ASEAN as a whole”.

Source: Al Jazeera