'Kill me, I can't stand the pain': Teachers recount students' terror during Myanmar school helicopter attack

Nearly 2,300 civilians have been killed in a crackdown on dissent since February last year when the military seized power in a coup



Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

By AFP

Published: Thu 22 Sep 2022, 8:38 AM

Teachers at a Myanmar school hit by a military helicopter attack last week have spoken of the terrifying horror of the onslaught – including watching a wounded child screaming in agony, begging to die.

Friday's violence at a school in Let Yet Kone village, Sagaing region, killed 14 people; 12 of them were children, with the youngest aged seven.

The United Nations, the European Union and rights groups have all condemned the incident, in which the Myanmar military said it targeted rebels who were using civilians as human shields.

Some children were playing outside while others attended classes as two helicopter gunships flew in and opened fire with machine guns and heavy weapons, one teacher said.

"One girl was hit on the back of her head... there was a lot of blood coming out," the teacher said in a phone interview with AFP, describing frantic efforts to perform first aid.

Students scrambled to take cover under tables as smoke billowed around, added the teacher.

The helicopters then touched down and troops poured out, storming the school grounds and ordering everyone inside to come out. Some children, their legs badly wounded, left a trail of blood as they crawled out, while others were too badly injured to move from their hiding spots.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military seized power in a coup in February last year, with nearly 2,300 civilians killed in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.

The Sagaing region in the country's northwest has seen some of the fiercest fighting, and entire villages have been burned down during clashes between anti-coup fighters and the military.

The mother of a wounded student pleaded with soldiers to let her into the classroom where her seven-year-old son was bleeding to death, recalled the teacher.

"The soldier shouted at her: 'do you want me to shoot and kill you?'"

Her son was bleeding so much it was almost "like he was drowning in water", they added.

Later, the mother and her dying son reunited – he was missing a hand and leg.

"The boy was still alive and he said: 'Mummy, it's very painful, kill me, kill me, I can't stand the pain'."

The tearful mother begged the soldiers not to take away her son's body, but they insisted he was not dead and took him to hospital; "the mother cried out: 'Let me make a funeral for my baby.'"

'I did not dare... to help him'

The teacher later watched as soldiers tossed children's severed body parts and bloody clothing into rice sacks.

A second teacher described rushing children indoors as the helicopters approached, only for the building to be hit by a large explosion.

"I saw one child was hit, and he shouted for help. He was covered in blood and he kept shouting, asking for help, but I did not dare to walk out to help him," the second teacher recounted.

As the firing continued, the second teacher decided to get out of the building, taking 20 students to hide under a large tamarind tree as the wounded boy continued to scream for help.

Many in Let Yet Kone village are still anxiously awaiting news about some students who are missing since the attack. There are no immediate plans to reopen the school, which had nearly 250 students and more than 20 teachers.

The junta said they had sent troops in helicopters to the village after receiving a tip-off that fighters from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) – an ethnic rebel group – and from a local anti-coup militia were moving weapons in the area.

The military accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields, and said it had seized mines and explosives from the village.

"Security members gave the necessary medical treatment and arranged to send patients to a nearby hospital," the military said in a statement.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun on Tuesday accused the KIA of taking villagers to a monastery and then firing on troops from there.

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