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Amnesty calls for war crimes probe over Myanmar military bombing of church | Conflict News

The January attack in Sagaing killed 17 villagers, including two children, while they attended a Sunday service.

Myanmar’s military should be investigated for war crimes over an airstrike last month that killed 17 villagers, including two children, while they attended a Sunday church service, Amnesty International has said.

Amnesty said analysis of photographs and videos, as well as interviews with witnesses, indicated that the Myanmar air force had dropped bombs at three locations near St. Peter’s Baptist Church in Kanan village on the morning of January 7. .

The village is in the Sagaing region, not far from Myanmar’s border with India.

At least 20 people were injured.

The damage is “consistent with airstrikes,” the human rights group said in a statement Thursday. “Combined photographic and video evidence indicates at least three impact sites, with craters consistent with aerial bombs weighing approximately 250 kg each.”

Myanmar’s military has previously denied responsibility for the attack and stated that no aircraft were operating in the area at the time.

But Amnesty said a review of video taken during the attacks showed the “distinctive swept-wing silhouette of an A-5 fighter jet flying over the village,” noting that only the military flies the Chinese-made plane. Additionally, satellite images of the Tada-U air base near Mandalay showed active A-5 operations at the airfield, while aircraft spotters had reported the takeoff, flight, and landing of an A-5 consistent with the attack. from that morning to Kanan.

“The Myanmar military’s deadly attacks on civilians show no sign of stopping,” said Matt Wells, director of Amnesty’s crisis response programme. “These attacks must be investigated as war crimes and the UN Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The perpetrators of these crimes under international law must be brought to justice.”

The bombing caused widespread damage to buildings in the town (Courtesy of Amnesty International)

Myanmar was plunged into crisis three years ago when generals seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, sparking mass protests that evolved into armed resistance after the military responded with brutal force.

At least 4,485 civilians have been killed since the coup and violence has become increasingly widespread.

Sagaing has been known for brutal attacks by the army, which has launched airstrikes and burned villages as part of its long-running strategy known as the “four cuts” that aims to separate its opponents from their potential civilian supporters.

At the time of the church attack, Kanan village was under the control of a unit of the People’s Defense Force (PDF), an anti-coup armed group established by the National Unity Government of legislators dismissed during the coup and activists. in favor of democracy.

‘Toothless statements’

There are growing calls for the international community to do more to address the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, where the United Nations estimates that at least 2.6 million people have been forced from their homes due to fighting and millions are in need. humanitarian assistance.

Although the United States and its allies have imposed some sanctions, the response has largely been left to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional grouping that Myanmar joined in 1997.

ASEAN agreed to the so-called Five Point Consensus to end the violence in an emergency meeting with Myanmar army chief General Min Aung Hlaing in April 2021, but the military regime has ignored the agreement and the bloc has done little to make it happen.

“The crisis in Myanmar is escalating rapidly and the people of Myanmar urgently need support and protection from the UN Security Council,” said Marzuki Darusman, member of the Special Advisory Council on Myanmar (SAC-M) and former president of the Independent International Committee from the ONU. -Search mission in Myanmar, he said Wednesday in a statement after a closed session of the council.

Ahead of the meeting, nine members of the 15-member council issued a statement calling on the military to end its attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

“It is simply not enough for the Security Council to issue ineffective statements and give in to an even more ineffective ASEAN. The junta must face justice for its deplorable acts,” Darusman added.

The exterior of St. Peter's Baptist Church in Kanan after the attack.  The windows have been blown out
Attacks on religious buildings are war crimes under international law (Courtesy of Amnesty International)

SAC-M member Chris Sedoti said the Security Council should have referred Myanmar to the ICC a long time ago.

“If he cannot, or will not, then others must act to finally bring to justice the perpetrators of serious international crimes in Myanmar through the ICC or a special court,” said Sedoti, who was also part of the investigation. mission.

In 2018, the mission called for the investigation and prosecution of Min Aung Hlaing and his top military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for their treatment of various ethnic and religious minorities in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states, including the Muslim majority. Rohingya.

The SAC-M was created after the coup by a group of independent international experts to support the people of Myanmar in their fight for justice and accountability.

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