A senior UN official says he was “horrified” by reports that at least 35 civilians, including women and children, were killed and their bodies were burned in Myanmar, urging probe into the incident.
The UN humanitarian affairs chief, Martin Griffiths, in a statement said authorities in Myanmar must investigate the deadly attack against civilians that took place on Friday in Kayah state.
It came after photos appeared on social media Saturday showing two burned-out trucks and a car on a highway in Myanmar’s Hpruso township in Kayah state, with the charred remains of bodies inside.
Griffiths said two humanitarian workers from the aid organization, Save the Children, were missing after their private vehicle was attacked and burned.
“I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” he said in a statement.
The senior UN official urged the government to immediately launch “a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident so that perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice.”
He also called on the Myanmar army, as well as armed groups in the country, to take all measures to protect civilians from harm.
A member of a local militia group known as “People’s Defense Forces” (PDF) was cited in media reports on Saturday as saying that the group fighters had found vehicles after hearing the military stopped several vehicles in Hpruso after clashes with the group fighters on Friday.
“When we went to check in the area this morning, we found dead bodies burnt in two trucks. We found 27 dead bodies,” he was quoted as saying in AFP report.
“We found 27 skulls,” another witness was quoted as saying, but like others he did not want to be identified, adding that there were other dead bodies that could not be counted.
The militia group has gained foothold across the country to fight the military government, with its fighters engaged in vicious clashes and reprisal attacks.
Save the Children, in a statement late on Saturday, confirmed that two of its Myanmar staff members had been “caught up” in the incident and were missing.
The two were on their way home after carrying out humanitarian work in the region, the charity group added, noting that it had since suspended its work in several regions across the country.
Myanmar’s military, meanwhile, had previously claimed that its troops had been attacked in Hpruso on Friday after attempting to stop seven vehicles driving in a “suspicious way.”
Troops killed a number of people in ensuing clashes, military spokesman Zaw Min Tun was quoted as saying in media reports, without elaborating.
Myanmar’s notorious junta launched a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists following a coup in February 2021 that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since the coup on February 1, protesters have been demanding the restoration of civilian rule and the release of Suu Kyi and her associates, who remain in the custody of the military.
Myanmar’s junta, during the rule of West-backed Suu Kyi, had been accused of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and other minority groups in the country.
Nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees remain stuck in squalid, crowded conditions in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh after members of the Muslim minority were forced to flee their homes in 2017.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were killed, raped, tortured, or arrested by the junta forces, according to the UN, which has described the community in the western Rakhine state as the most persecuted minority in the world.