An air strike has killed 80 people and injured around 100, including musicians and singers, at a concert in northern Myanmar.
Popular singer Aurali Lahpai was onstage when three military jets flew overhead and dropped bombs on the outdoor event on Sunday, killing civilians, local singers and officers of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), local media reported.
One bomb struck near the main stage, killing Mr. Lahpai and musicians Galau Yaw Lwi (a.k.a Yungwi Shadang), and Ko King.
Zaw Dain, a veteran actor and the former chairman of the Kachin Artist Association, was injured.
Naw Bu, a KIA spokesman, said the attack targeted celebrations of the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Kachin army’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).
“This is quite a wicked act that can be also considered war crimes,” he said by phone.
The U.N. in Myanmar said it was deeply concerned and saddened by reports of the attack.
“What would appear to be excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians is unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
In a joint statement, heads of diplomatic missions in Myanmar including Australia, Britain, the United States and European Union members said the attack “underscores the military regime’s responsibility for crisis and instability … and its disregard for its obligation to protect civilians.”
The KIA have been engaged in a six-decade-long struggle demanding greater autonomy for the Kachin minority people. The group is opposed to the military rule which succeeded in the wake of a coup last year.
The military junta claimed the strikes were in accordance with international rules of engagement, as well as a “necessary operation” in response to alleged “terrorist” acts carried out by the KIA.
The military junta also dismissed the reports of a high death toll and denied bombing a concert with singers and members of the audience among the dead.
Hkun Htwe, a village resident who attended the concert, told the New York Times he watched the planes as they flew overhead and saw the bombs land in four places.
“The spotlights illuminating the stage at the open-air event made it easy for the pilots to target the venue”.
Rescue workers said some victims died because military troops – who control a key bridge in the area – would not allow them to transport the wounded to a hospital.
Myanmar has been trapped in a cycle of violence since the army overthrew Suu Kyi’s government.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] foreign ministers are due to meet on Thursday to discuss the crisis.
A group of 457 Myanmar civil society organisations called in an open letter for ASEAN leaders to scrap their five-point “consensus” and instead work with civilian leaders and the National Unity Government of Myanmar.
The Kachin News Group reported that an initial search found 58 bodies, then later said that more than 20 bodies were recovered, taking the total to around 80.