A Thingyan to Never Forget

April 24th, 2023  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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Given this resorting to aerial attacks, actors and supporters of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution are calling for help from the international community to sanction the aviation fuel which the junta’s fighter jets and attack helicopters rely on. This was seen in the open letter signed by over 540 Myanmar, regional and international civil society organizations calling for the UN Security Council to convene a meeting and impose “punitive measures against the junta.” 

Amid the terror and cruelty that Min Aung Hlaing and his murderous junta are inflicting on the people of Myanmar, the massacre of up to 200 people at a gathering in Pa Zi Gyi Village in Sagaing Region from aerial attack will live long in the memory. And while the various members and bodies of the international community such as the UN Security Council and ASEAN dither, the people of Myanmar continue their brave resistance, refusing to back down in the face of unfathomable inhumanity.

The gathering in Pa Zi Gyi Village on 11 April was to celebrate the establishment of a village administration department under the National Unity Government (NUG). Around 300 people were in attendance, representing all households of this village. They were gathered together under a shelter enjoying a festive meal, just as Thingyan, one of the most important Buddhist annual holidays – the Buddhist New Year, or water festival – was about to begin. Yet a junta aircraft specifically targeted this celebration, and dropped two bombs on the main gathering point. To inflict more fatalities, as the villagers were scouring for signs of life amid the carnage and bloodshed, an attack helicopter returned to the scene, opening fire on those who were attempting to aid the wounded. While the total death toll is as yet unconfirmed, at least 170 people, including over 40 children are known to have died with dozens more injured. Meanwhile, junta troops returned to the village in the following days, arresting villagers, while a helicopter and a fighter jet have flown over the village, inciting intense fear among survivors who are hiding in displacement sites nearby that they will be attacked again. It was the deadliest attack since the coup attempt began on 1 February, 2021, and adds to the litany of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by junta forces including the bombing of a music concert in Hpakant, Kachin State in October 2022 that killed over 60 people, the Let Yet Kone Village school bombing that killed 11 children in September 2022.

The junta did not deny what had happened, instead reverting to its usual line that there were “terrorists” present at the gathering. This is an absurd, Orwellian notion given that it is clearly the junta that is using terror in its desperate attempt to establish power in regions such as Sagaing where the resistance forces have legitimacy from the people and govern significant territory. The escalation of aerial attacks, which have devastating civilian death tolls such as that seen in Pa Zi Gyi Village, demonstrates a desperation as the junta’s thinly spread, demoralized military units are losing on the battlefield, the generals are losing territorial control, and the military bureaucrats cannot function or administer people and land. Recent airstrikes prior to the Pa Zi Gyi bombing also includes the bombing of a town in northern Chin State on 10 April, the day before the Pa Zi Gyi attack, killing ten people including a child while another airstrike in Chin State on March 30 killed at least eight people. In Karenni State, hours after the 30 March airstrike in Chin State, a fighter jet targeted a clinic and a school, killing one, while on the same day, Shwegu Township in Kachin State was also experiencing the junta’s aerial attacks. 

Given this resorting to aerial attacks, actors and supporters of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution are calling for help from the international community to sanction the aviation fuel which the junta’s fighter jets and attack helicopters rely on. This was seen in the open letter signed by over 540 Myanmar, regional and international civil society organizations calling for the UN Security Council to convene a meeting and impose “punitive measures against the junta.” This includes targeted economic sanctions against junta-linked entities, a comprehensive arms embargo, including on aviation fuel, and to pursue justice and accountability at international mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court. The arms embargo and sanctioning of aviation of fuel is all the more important given Min Aung Hlaing’s plans to massively increase military spending, shown by his approval of a military budget of $2.7billion for the next fiscal year, up from $1.6 billion.

While recent sanctions imposed on Myanmar entities and individuals related to the import of aviation fuel, such as those by Canada – and to a more limited effect, UK and the US – are welcomed, the international community must act as a matter of urgency in a more targeted and coordinated way to ensure that further obstacles are put in the way of the junta’s ability to commit such atrocity crimes. Furthermore, the notion that China and Russia should remain ‘impartial’ in other countries’ internal affairs, as both countries expressed related to the failure of the UNSC to release a statement condemning the attack, is hypocritical given that the junta buys a significant amount of its weapons, including jet fighters, from China and Russia. Indeed the type of helicopter used in the second round of the attack on Pa Zi Gi – MI-35s – are supplied by Russia to the Myanmar junta.

Geopolitical and commercial interests must not trump the right of the people of Myanmar not to have bombs and bullets rain down on them from the sky ahead of the much celebrated Buddhist new year holiday. There is no way back for the junta, and as recent successes of resistance forces in destroying jet fuel storage facilities at an airbase in the nation’s capital, Naypyidaw, shows, the junta are becoming more and more desperate and vulnerable. Silence and inaction equates to complicity. It is time for international bodies such as the UNSC exercise their mandate and responsibility to help hasten the demise of this murderous junta by taking concrete actions to isolate them and prevent them from getting their hands on military equipment. Furthermore, governments and bodies, including ASEAN, must recognize that the government of Myanmar is the NUG, and that any concessions to, appeals for restraint, or engagement with, the junta is only enabling them to further commit more horrific massacres that the people of Pa Zi Gyi experienced during this year’s Thingyan.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

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Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”