Teachers at a school in Myanmar that was hit by a military helicopter last week have spoken of the terrifying horror of the attack — including watching a wounded child scream in agony, begging to die.
Friday’s violence at a school in the village of Let Yet Kone, Sagaing region, left 14 people dead — 12 of them children, the youngest as young as seven.
The United Nations, European Union and human rights groups have condemned the incident, which Myanmar’s military said targeted insurgents using civilians as human shields.
Some children were playing outside while others attended classes when two helicopters swooped in and opened fire with machine guns and heavy weapons, one teacher said.
“One girl was hit in the back of the head … she was bleeding a lot,” the teacher said in a phone interview with AFP, describing the frantic efforts to provide first aid.
Students scrambled to take cover under desks as smoke billowed around, added the teacher, whose name AFP has withheld for security reasons.
Helicopters then landed and troops poured in, stormed the school grounds and ordered everyone inside to get out, the teacher said.
Some of the children, with badly wounded legs, left a trail of blood on their way out, the teacher said, while others were too badly injured to move from their hiding places.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military seized power in a coup last February, with nearly 2,300 civilians killed in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
The Sagaing region in the northwest of the country has seen some of the fiercest fighting, with entire villages burned during clashes between anti-coup fighters and the military.
The mother of the wounded student begged the soldiers to let her into the classroom where her seven-year-old son was bleeding, the teacher said.
“The soldier shouted at her: ‘do you want me to shoot and kill you?'” said the teacher.
Her son was bleeding so much it was almost “like he was drowning in water”, they added.
Later, the mother and her dying son were reunited — he was missing an arm and a leg.
“The boy was still alive and he said, ‘Mom, it hurts a lot, kill me, kill me, I can’t take the pain,'” the teacher said.
The crying mother begged the soldiers not to take her son’s body away, but they insisted he was not dead and took him to the hospital, the teacher said.
“The mother cried, ‘Let me make a funeral for my baby’.”
The teacher later watched as the soldiers threw the children’s severed body parts and bloody clothes into sacks of rice.
Another teacher described how children ran indoors as helicopters approached, only for a large explosion to hit the building.
“I saw one child was hit and he shouted for help. He was covered in blood and kept shouting, asking for help, but I didn’t dare to go out to help him,” another teacher told AFP by phone.
As the shooting continued, another teacher decided to leave the building, leading 20 students to hide under a large tamarind tree, while the wounded boy continued to scream for help.
AFP was unable to independently verify the teacher’s accounts.
Many in the village of Let Yet Kone are still anxiously awaiting news of some students who have been reported 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 it sent troops in helicopters to the village after receiving a tip that fighters from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) — an ethnic rebel group — and 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.
“The security personnel provided the necessary medical assistance and arranged for the patients to be sent to a nearby hospital,” the army said in a statement.
On Tuesday, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun accused the KIA of taking the villagers to the monastery and then shooting at the soldiers from there.