Relatives were still recovering the charred bodies and limbs of victims killed in a military airstrike on a village in central Myanmar Wednesday, a day after one of the deadliest attacks since the junta seized power in a coup two years ago.
An eyewitness, who hid in a tunnel during the attack, described a scene of horror as he approached the site of the military airstrike – of children dying, women screaming, and bodies heaped on the ground.
At least 165 people, including 27 women and 19 children, were killed after Myanmar’s military junta bombed Kanbalu township in the central Sagaing region on Tuesday, the human rights minister of the ousted shadow National Unity Government Aung Myo Min wrote on Twitter, before confirming the figures to CNN.
A further 30 people were wounded, 20 of whom remain in a serious condition including a pregnant woman and an eight-year-old child. Of those who died, 158 bodies have been cremated, Aung Myo Min added in his comments to CNN.
First responders and medical teams haven’t been able to return to the site of the attack because military planes have continued flying over the town, though there have been no further strikes, Aung Myo Min said earlier.
About 300 people had gathered in Pazigyi Village early on Tuesday morning to celebrate the opening of a local administration office, an eyewitness told CNN on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution. Families had traveled from nearby villages for the event, where tea and food was offered and which coincided with the start of the Thingyan New Year celebrations.
Like much of Sagaing, the area is not under the control of the military junta. The new town office was being opened under the authority of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), for the people, as part of the anti-junta resistance.
“We didn’t have any warning,” the eyewitness said. “Most of the villagers were inside the event, so they didn’t notice the jet.”
Just before 8 a.m., a junta aircraft bombed the village where the ceremony was being held, the eyewitness and local media reported. An Mi35 helicopter then circled and fired on the village minutes later, the eyewitness told CNN.
“When I arrived at the scene we tried to search for people still alive,” he said. “Everything was terrible. People were dying (as they were being transported) on motorbikes. Children and women. Some lost their heads, limbs, hands. I saw flesh on the road.”
The eyewitness said he saw dozens of bodies after the attack, including children as young as five. He said he lost four family members in the strike, and a young child from his village was among the dead.
“I saw lots of people coming onto the scene to search for their kids, crying and screaming,” he said.
At around 5:30 p.m. the junta jets returned and shot the same place they had bombed that morning, he said.
CNN cannot independently verify the incident but the eyewitness’s account matches reports in local media and from the NUG.