Myanmar's military has confessed to conducting an air attack on a community hall in the central Sagaing region. At least 50 people were reportedly killed, including women and schoolchildren performing dances.
Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for the military, verified the raid late on Tuesday night, stating that security forces attacked an opening ceremony for the office of a supposedly anti-government militia group in Pa Zi Gyi village.
He told AFP that some of the deceased were anti-coup fighters in uniform but that "there could be some people in civilian clothes."
Some of the fatalities were attributed to mines planted by the militias, also known as the People's Defence Forces (PDF).
Witnesses told local media that fighter aircraft dropped bombs on the community centre in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Soon after, helicopter gunships arrived and opened fire on survivors at the scene, impeding rescue efforts.
U Nay Zin Latt, a former legislator for the region, told the Irrawaddy news website, "Many people, including children, were killed, and the number of casualties could exceed 50."
Ko Aung, a resident of Pa Zi Gyi who arrived at the scene shortly after the attack, described the site of bodies strewn across the ground as "terrifying." "Due to the bombardment, motorcycles were on fire, and the house was destroyed. People were weeping as they searched for their loved ones, he stated.
Ko Aung told the Irrawaddy news website that he lost family members in the attack and that he was forced to seek shelter beneath a concrete structure when Mi-35 helicopters appeared in the sky and began firing on the people on the ground.
Al Jazeera could not confirm the figure, which was reported by some media outlets to exceed 100. If validated, the attack on Pa Zi Gyi would be the deadliest in the nation since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.
Call for accountability
Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres vehemently condemned Tuesday's attack and demanded that "those responsible be held accountable."
In addition, he pleaded for immediate medical treatment and access to aid for the injured.
The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, was "horrified" by the attack and condemned the military's "blatant disregard for rules of international law" requiring the protection of civilians.
Since February 1, 2021, "there are reasonable grounds to believe that the military and its affiliated militias are responsible for a vast array of human rights violations and abuses, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes," Turk added.
Likewise, the United States conveyed "deep concern."
It noted that the attack followed reports of an air raid in northern Chin state in which at least nine people were killed. It stated that "these violent attacks further demonstrate the regime's disregard for human life and its responsibility for the grave political and humanitarian crisis in Burma since the coup in February 2021." Burma was formerly the country's moniker.
Since the military's seizure of power and subsequent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators demonstrating against its rule, Myanmar has descended into chaos. The United Nations and human rights organizations allege that soldiers in Myanmar have committed thousands of indiscriminate murders, arbitrary arrests, and torture.
In addition, they accuse the armed forces of torching tens of thousands of residences in villages opposed to military rule, claiming that these actions constitute war crimes.
The violence prompted the National Unity Government (NUG), established by elected legislators ousted in the revolution, to call for a "people's uprising" against the military. Since then, PDF militias have proliferated throughout Myanmar, effectively denying the military control over large portions of the country and preventing it from consolidating its coup.
According to the UN, at least 1,2 million people have been displaced due to the conflict.
Several Western nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and European Union, have sanctioned Myanmar's military, including the aviation fuel sector, to limit air attacks.
In addition to the assault on Pa Zi Gyi, the military attacked a music concert in northern Kachin state in October, killing up to 80 people.
Amnesty International called for suspending jet fuel supplies to Myanmar again on Tuesday.
"Illegal air attacks that kill and injure civilians and destroy homes are a trademark of the Myanmar military, which goes to despicable lengths to crush opposition and instil terror in the populace. Amnesty's business and human rights researcher Montse Ferrer said in a statement that Myanmar's civilians endure the brunt of these sickening tactics.
"The relentless air attacks across Myanmar demonstrate the urgent need to suspend aviation fuel imports." Amnesty International reiterates its appeal for all nations and companies to halt shipments that could end up in the hands of the Myanmar Air Force.
This supply chain enables violations of international humanitarian law, such as war crimes, and must be disrupted to save lives.