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“Terrorism from the Sky”: Burmese Junta Bombs Civilians, Killing 100, Escalating Attack on Resistance

Written by on 13/04/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Burma, where the military junta is escalating its airstrikes on civilians. On Tuesday, it carried out its deadliest attack yet, when it bombed a gathering at a community hall, killing an estimated 100 people, including 30 children. Graphic images posted online and verified by Al Jazeera and other media show burning limbs at the scene.

This is how the BBC’s Jonathan Head described the attack, tweeting, quote, “Horrific air strike by military jets and helicopters this morning … Video posted by locals too awful to upload here but they say at least 53 dead, including women & children.” He continued, quote, “I cannot begin to describe how terrible the scenes are at Pa Zi Gyi. So many bodies, so horribly mangled.”

Members of Burma’s government-in-exile condemned the attack as a “heinous act” that constitutes “a war crime.”

The BBC and others have reported the military junta has increasingly used airstrikes to crush the resistance since it seized power in a 2021 coup, often targeting schools and clinics run by the opposition.

This comes as the United Nations has warned of worsening humanitarian and human rights crises in Burma, with mass arrests, torture of prisoners, the killing of civilians, and media repression.

For more, we’re joined by Maung Zarni, a Burmese scholar, dissident, human rights activist, co-founder of the Forces of Renewal for Southeast Asia, a grassroots network of pro-democracy scholars and human rights activists across Southeast Asia. His recent piece, titled “Myanmar Military’s Acts of Terrorism from the Sky & Savage Beheadings on the Ground.”

Zarni, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain what’s happened in Burma, this latest attack, as you understand it?

MAUNG ZARNI: Well, Myanmar military is losing against the armed resistance on the ground that has sprung up since the military coup two years ago, so they are increasingly relying on airstrikes, and they are targeting the most vulnerable among the resistance communities. I mean, the whole country is up in arms. I mean, literally, every single community is involved in some kind of armed resistance against this, you know, 60-years-old military dictatorship. And so, they are trying to terrorize the civilian populations into submission.

What happened yesterday at Pa Zi Gyi, a large village not too far from Mandalay, where I grew up — this is the — Sagaing is the Naga province or state from Mandalay division. And what happened was that the — you know, about 800 villagers gather to open the local administrative services office, that the military got wind of the opening ceremony. And they decided that this was an occasion, a legitimate occasion, to target civilians. This is not indiscriminate killing of the mixed armed fighters and the civilians. This is civilian gathering. They knew it, and they targeted the civilians. Targeting civilians for political gains and terrorizing them, it’s — you know, by any definition, it’s terroristic activity. That’s why I called this the terrorism from the sky.

AMY GOODMAN: After the airstrike, Zarni, Amnesty International released an appeal titled “Urgent need to suspend aviation fuel as air strikes wreak havoc.” Who is providing the fuel? And what do you think needs to be done?

MAUNG ZARNI: Well, you know, turning off the flow of aviation fuel, that is transported through several ASEAN countries, Association of Southeast Asian countries, like Singapore, Thailand, and among others. Yes, they need to be turned off immediately.

But, Amy, the problem is not simply that aviation fuel is enabling the regime. What has enabled the regime to carry on as business as usual the increasing use of airstrikes against civilians are three things.

One is, you know, the Security Council’s failure to take any meaningful action. As you know, it’s a paralyzed body.

And the second is China’s recent resumption of its backing of the military. China decided that they are going to back the military, because the democratic resistance is at least notionally backed by the United States and the European Union.

And the third, and also very equally significant, is this deafening silence from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN has been a complete failure in the case of Cambodian genocide, Rohingya genocide 40 years later, and it is failing when its member state is using air force to terrorize the civilian population, committing all kinds of, like, atrocious cracking of the military, that uses Russia’s gunship helicopters; the Western democracies’ failure to really back the democratic resistance as it is doing in Ukraine; and, thirdly, the ASEAN’s regional bloc’s complete and utter failure to lift a finger to stop the killings.

AMY GOODMAN: Who else is working with the Burmese military? And by the way, just for people to understand the term Burma and Myanmar, the military junta renaming Burma “Myanmar.” We refer to it as Burma. Zarni?

MAUNG ZARNI: Well, who else? I mean, a lot of — yeah, of course, like, we could point fingers at Burma’s immediate neighbors, like Thailand or India or China, that are involved in various strategic rivalries or economic contests. But there are also, like, you know, massive number of Western corporations, like from the U.S., from Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, Japan.

And so, this is not that different from what happened in tsarist Russia. You know, a hundred years ago, tsarist Russia was propped up or financially backed by French bankers and English economic and political interests. And against that, the Russian Revolution took place. And that is what is happening today, because, you know, the democratic struggles don’t happen in a vacuum. We are fighting a very, very steep uphill battle. And the United Nations, as a system of political states, are also failing. So there is so much palpable rage and frustration among the Burmese resistance fighters and the society as a whole.

And so, but the people have had enough. They are not taking it lying down, you know, the abuses and years of repression. They are fighting. Women are making bombs and involved in like, you know, sabotage operations. Young men, journalists, doctors, engineers, literally thousands of them have joined the armed resistance. Every single Burmese family knows or supports or has a member of a fighter that is against the regime. This is like, you know, 1940s Europe with partisans fighting the Nazi occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: Maung Zarni, two years ago, the U.S. government announced it’s, quote, “taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly accessing more than $1 billion in Burmese government funds held in the United States.” Your response to that? And is there a way to funnel that money to the Burmese people?

MAUNG ZARNI: Yes. I think, you know, the contrast between the Biden — I mean, it was President Biden who, within 10 days of the coup, walked on the White House press stage and then declared that this — he was going to freeze $1 billion U.S. that belongs to the people of Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government deposited that money in the U.S. financial institutions. Biden froze it. That’s the Burmese people’s money.

And then, on the other hand, the U.S. administration, as you know, has pumped more than $50 billion U.S. and emptied nearly all the shelves in terms of Pentagon arsenal to support the Ukrainian resistance. You know, we are happy that Ukraine gets support and unity of solidarity among Western nations, but we are fighting a similarly atrocious, Russian-backed regime in Burma, and we are not getting a penny.

So, I think we are not asking for American taxpayers to underwrite our liberation struggle. We are simply saying we have $1 billion that Joe Biden froze. Unfreeze that money and make sure that the corruption doesn’t mushroom out of that war chest. And there are ways to manage this wisely and with financial transparency. We cannot fight and win a liberation struggle on empty stomachs and homemade Molotov cocktails, when, you know, the repressive Myanmar military is well armed with Russian-made helicopters and MiG-29 jets and China’s backing, China’s arms. We need to have a level playing field. We are fighting a atrocious 60-year-old military dictatorship that has perpetrated genocide and that is perpetrating a long series of war crimes, crimes against humanity and every grave crimes ever written in international law.

Biden needs to unfreeze the money. He gave a speech at the Summit of Democracy, the second summit held in Seoul, and he did not even make a mention of Myanmar, while he praised on bravery of Ukrainian resistance. We are happy that Ukrainian brothers and sisters receive the Western backing, but, you know, we should also be receiving solidarity and support, and material support.

AMY GOODMAN: Maung Zarni, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Burmese scholar, dissident, human rights activist, co-founder of the Forces of Renewal for Southeast Asia, or FORSEA, a grassroots network of pro-democracy scholars and human rights activists across Southeast Asia. We’ll link to your “piece”: will lead to your piece, “Myanmar Military’s Acts of Terrorism from the Sky & Savage Beheadings on the Ground.”

Next up, the Philippines, where thousands of U.S., Filipino and Australian troops are holding the largest military drills ever, despite Chinese protest. Stay with us.

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