A celebration turned deadly as musicians, businessmen, the Kachin public and senior members of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) gathered at ANang Pa village on Sunday night to mark the 62nd anniversary of the KIO, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
A concert where everyone was in a relaxed mood as Kachin singer Aurali took the stage accompanied by music.
Then suddenly, jet fighters appeared and dropped a bomb directly on the stage, blasting bodies apart and sending them flying through the air. But it did not stop there, as jet fighters sprayed machine gun fire over the area.
The deadly airstrike on a civilian area has been widely condemned as a war crime. The village is located 3 km from Hpakant in an area controlled by KIA Brigade 9.
Yangon-based Western embassies condemned the attack, but the regime insisted it was a military target. The junta said the air strike on the concert was in retaliation for attacks on its military bases by resistance forces. It also denied civilians including musicians were killed in the bombing and claimed ANang Pa was a KIA 9th Brigade military camp.
Those killed included Kachin officers and soldiers, musicians and jade-mining business owners as well as other civilians. According to the KIO, some 10 Kachin military and business VIPs sitting in front of the stage simply vanished in the attack.
KIA spokesperson Colonel Naw Bu told The Irrawaddy that the death toll rose to 75 as of Thursday, with more in danger of succumbing to their injuries as regime troops block medical treatment. An initial death toll list includes senior officials belonging to the 9th Brigade military camp and People’s Defense Force groups (PDF).
Prior to the bombing, Kachin businessmen reportedly paid a large bribe to the local Myanmar military commander to get unofficial approval for the concert. They took the money but the jet fighters dropped their bombs anyway.
The decision to bomb the KIO celebration no doubt came from the regime’s top leaders, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and General Soe Win. It is widely believed that the pilot who led the bombing was swiftly promoted. The attack may also boost the morale of the military.
Junta leaders would have celebrated the bombing, no doubt by opening pricey whisky bottles. General Soe Win ordered similar air raids and missile attacks in Rakhine State before the coup, believing such deadly attacks would scare people and insurgents. But the fear is the bombing will only escalate the armed conflict and deepen the wounds.
Why the KIO/KIA?
Founded on Oct. 25, 1960, the KIO is a powerful Kachin political organization whose armed wing, the KIA, has been fighting the Myanmar government and military for greater state autonomy.
Despite an on again, off again ceasefire with past regimes, the KIA has been engaging the military in combat for decades.
In November 2014, the military shelled a combat training ground at the KIA base in Jawng Rung killing 22 cadets and leaving many wounded. The attack occurred despite the fact that at that time the KIA had entered “peace talks” with the Thein Sein government.
Since the coup last year, the KIA has been conducting military operations alongside anti-regime forces in Kachin State. The KIO refused to join the junta’s peace talks this year, branding them illegitimate. Among the ethnic armies, the KIA is one of the most powerful, best organized, most centralized and most politically savvy. They are predominantly Christian and Kachin priests are politically influential in the state. They have provided shelter to activists and NLD politicians and many professionals who have evaded arrest.
The KIA also trains young people wanting to receive military instruction. They then send them back to the central plains or urban cities to attack the regime. Many activists in Sagaing Region, where strong resistance forces continue to clash with the military, received their training from the KIA, which also provides small arms and ammunition to trainees before they return. While providing arms training to newly arrived young activists the Kachin have also engaged in fighting against regime troops since the coup. In May last year the KIA shot down one of the junta’s helicopters during an air strike in Momauk Township.
The KIA works closely with the shadow National Unity Government, whose current acting president is Kachin Duwa Lashi La, a Kachin politician and lawyer.
It is safe to say that the KIA has gained political support and admiration beyond the borders of Kachin State, and this has no doubt infuriated the regime leaders.
But this is not all.
In the recent past, the Kachin also provided shelter and military training to a dozen staunch Arakanese nationalists who went on to found the Arakan Army (AA) on Kachin soil. Today, the AA is a powerful ethnic army operating in northern Rakhine State.
In his response to CNN on Wednesday, the junta spokesman justified the regime’s actions as necessary military operations, saying the Kachin ethnic armed group trained and supplied People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), which the regime has labeled as terrorists, with weapons and ammunition in Sagaing in central Myanmar.
There is no doubt that the KIA is a thorn in the side of the military regime.
The regime wanted to take revenge against the Kachin and this bombing can be seen as retribution. This is a warning to Kachin and other insurgents who have been resisting the coup.
Who stands with the Kachin?
The Karen in the south came out to condemn the attack, calling it a war crime. Karen insurgents belonging to the Karen National Union have also been active in supporting anti-coup resistance groups including several PDF forces in its territory. The regime regularly sends jet fighters to Karen State to bomb villages, refugees and insurgents. But to date, the air strike in ANang Pa is the deadliest ever.
Aside from the KNU, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), including the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the well-known Three Brotherhood Alliance grouping the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the AA, condemned the bombing.
Belatedly, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) joined in to expressed condolences and shock over the attack.
However, some EAOs, including the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), which continues to hold talks with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, remained silent.
The bombing came days before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a special meeting of the group’s foreign ministers in Jakarta to discuss the stalled peace plan in Myanmar.
“The foreign ministers expressed concern and disappointment over no significant progress on the five-point consensus implementation,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a news conference after the meeting.
“The violent acts need to stop immediately. And Indonesia had mentioned that this request needs to be delivered to Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] immediately,” said Retno.
ASEAN foreign ministers and representatives agreed the bloc should be “even more determined” to bring about a peaceful solution in Myanmar as soon as possible, the chair said in a statement, noting that Myanmar’s situation remained “critical and fragile”.
Min Aung Hlaing, who has been barred from ASEAN summits, has given a middle finger to the pathetic ASEAN.
Myanmar today is beginning to look like Syria, many inside the country say. Killings, targeted assassinations, bombings and armed clashes take place daily throughout Myanmar.
The bombing in Kachin’s Hpakant will escalate the fight against the regime.
Moreover, this could also draw ethnic armed organizations closer together to fight a common enemy. Will they?
Several analysts have predicted that a dry season offensive will begin in the coming weeks. It appears the vengeful regime decided to kick it off by dropping deadly bombs at the Kachin concert.
The question is, who can bring Min Aung Hlaing and the regime to justice?