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Blast at Myanmar camp sounded like it came from the ‘world wars’

A farmer who lost his wife, three children and his mother when a bomb was dropped on his Kachin state village earlier this week said the powerful explosion wiped out buildings up to one mile away and sounded like something “used in the world wars.”

“Houses built by NGOs and the locals are now left with only iron pillars.” Maran Bauk Lar told Radio Free Asia. “This was a type of bomb that has never been used in Myanmar.”

The explosion at the Mung Lai Hkyet internally displaced persons camp at about 11 p.m. on Monday killed 29 people, including 11 children, and left 57 others wounded, relief workers told RFA. 

The camp is near Lai Zar in the mountainous border area between Kachin state and China. Lai Zar is the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army, or the KIA, which has fought the Burmese military for decades and controls areas of northern Myanmar. 

KIA information officer Col. Naw Bu told RFA earlier this week that he believed the junta was targeting the headquarters in the attack.

Maran Bauk Lar, whose wife and three children were killed in the Mung Lai Hkyet attack, found their bodies when he returned to the camp. His mother and sister-in-law also were killed. Credit: Provided to RFA

Maran Bauk Lar said he was walking to his farm when he heard the explosion. When he returned, he found a deep pit and the remains of his sister-in-law and the other family members. 

“My mother’s body was completely dismembered, and her skull was broken,” he said. “Only the bones remain. My wife and children were killed under the collapsed building. Our dormitories were completely destroyed. There is nothing left.”

‘Emboldened by the indifference’

The Mung Lai Hkyet camp has 658 residents, many of whom are now suffering from psychological trauma as they recover from the explosion, relief workers said. 

Survivors have been temporarily relocated to a church in Woichyai, an internally displaced persons camp in Lai Zar. 

“At the moment, they are sleeping on the floor of the church,” a person helping them said. “They have to start a new life from scratch. They don’t have a single penny in their hands.”

Coffins are lined up next to graves as a mass funeral takes place to bury victims of a military strike on the Mung Lai Hkyet camp near the northern Myanmar town of Laiza on Oct. 10, 2023. Credit: AFP

The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a group of independent experts working to support human rights efforts in the country, urged the United Nations and its member states to hold the junta responsible for the attack.

“The Myanmar military is so emboldened by the indifference of the international community in response to its decades of atrocity crimes that it is now attacking camps for internally displaced people,” said Yanghee Lee, a member of the council and a former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

“The military is flagrantly massacring the most vulnerable people in society, and yet U.N. entities in Myanmar will not even publicly name the military as the perpetrator,” he said. 

At the State Department, spokesman Matthew Miller said that the United States was “deeply concerned” by reports of the explosion.

“We strongly condemn the military regime’s ongoing attacks that have claimed thousands of lives since the February 2021 coup and continue to exacerbate the region’s most severe humanitarian crisis,” he said on Tuesday

A girl cries next to a grave as a mass funeral takes place to bury victims of the military strike on Mung Lai Hkyet camp near Laiza, Myanmar, on Oct. 10, 2023. Credit: AFP

‘The culture of military dictatorship’

Fighting in the area between junta forces and the KIA has intensified since July. Lately, there have been artillery strikes from the junta almost every day, local residents said.

While some residents said they heard a plane just before Monday’s explosion, others told RFA that they heard nothing. 

The KIA has formed an investigation team to determine what caused the blast, Naw Bu said, adding that it may have been a bomb dropped by a junta-operated drone. 

“They always target the public, not only in our territory in Kachin state, but across the country,” he said of the junta. “It is the culture of military dictatorship.”

A man stands amid debris left by the military strike on the Mung Lai Hkyet camp on Oct. 11, 2023, two days after the assault. Credit: AFP

RFA’s calls on Wednesday to Win Ye Tun, the junta’s social affairs minister and spokesman for Kachin state, for comments on the death toll at Mung Lai Hkyet went unanswered.

Junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA that junta troops were not behind the attack on Mung Lai Hkyet. He speculated that it was caused by an accidental explosion at a warehouse where the KIA stores gunpowder.

A Mung Lai Hkyet resident told RFA that it was “totally untrue” that there are weapons factories and arsenals in the camp. 

“There is no arsenal,” he said. “There are only civilians who are displaced persons.” 

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.