Air Strike on Pazi Gyi case study

More than 170 people were killed in an air attack on Pazigyi village in Kantbalu Township. The Military Council claimed it was a strike against the PDF/NUG base, identified as a military target. However, villagers assert that it was a civil office opening, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including some PDFs.

Summary of the process

In April 2023, in Pazigyi Village, Kantbalu Township, Sagaing Division, a military aircraft bombed the area, followed by an attack helicopter opening fire on the morning of the 11th. As a result, more than 170 people died in Pazigyi village, which has a population of just over a thousand. Locals reported that 38 children were among the casualties, and almost the entire village turned into a makeshift morgue.

According to the records of the Sagaing Region government in 2020, Pazigyi Village comprises more than seven hundred houses and a population of more than three thousand. Situated on the way to Maw District along the Irrawaddy River from the Shwebo-Myitkyina highway, Pazigyi village is about an hour and a half’s drive from Kantbalu town in the Sagaing region. It lacks government electricity and primarily relies on batteries.

The main agricultural products cultivated in the village are beans and sesame. Despite being an ordinary village in Kantbalu Township, Pazigyi supports the National League for Democracy (NLD) and hosts a rural dispensary and a secondary (branch) school. After the establishment of the NUG government, Pazigyi village became a place where the NUG was recognized as the governing body and public administration was developed. The youth in the village became students through the NUG’s interim education program, being reeducated.

Contrary to the military council’s statements, which depict Pazigyi as the main base station for arms and ammunition supply to the northern and southern Sagaing regions where the KIA and PDF are active, villagers deny these allegations. They state that there are few public security forces formed to protect the community, with no presence of PDF forces.

Regarding the location of the PDF camp, the Military Council claimed to have bombed the headquarters of the NUG, but the NUG asserted that only civilians were present. The bombing, resulting in more than 170 casualties, including children, garnered worldwide condemnation. Both the military council and the NUG blamed each other. Discrepancies between the military council’s press release, the NUG’s statements, and the villagers’ accounts, as well as various organizations’ press releases, including the military council and the lobby, are analyzed to understand the propaganda model employed in this event.

The process unfolded as follows:

On April 11th, local villagers were getting ready for the inauguration of the NUG government’s public administration office and a ceremony for a new house located some distance outside the village. Following the tradition of Anya, people from the neighboring villages of Nijiasji had also gathered as a silent donation was planned.

Contrary to claims made by the NUG government, the event was not opening a public administration office but rather a ceremony for a new village house. Some contested that it was not a military target.

While the villagers were preparing for the donation in the canteen and were unaware of the approaching aircraft due to loudspeakers playing music during the event, warplanes arrived and bombed the cafeteria where people had gathered. Subsequently, the planes fired weapons again.

Figure – 1 – Photo of the weapon used by the military council

In addition, in the evening, the bombings, a few days later, the foot soldiers entered and cleared the witnesses, and not only the villagers of Pazigyi but also the surrounding villages had to flee.

Figure – 2 – Pazigyi Village as seen on GOOGLE EARTH map (BBC News)

In over two years in Sagaing, numerous battles have occurred between the military council forces and the PDF. However, according to the villagers, only two convoys have entered Pazigyi village. In May 2022, a column spent the night in Pazi, and at the end of July, the last time a column came to Pazi, there was no battle, as reported by the villagers. The nearest military council camp to Pazi Gyi is located in Maw village, approximately four miles away. Some soldiers were stationed at the police station in that village.

“There was no attack on that camp from this side. Those soldiers didn’t even leave the village. Sometimes I fall,” a villager shared with the BBC. Kantbalu Township, situated in the heart of Sagaing Division, borders Kolin to the north, Khin Oo to the south, the strike pit to the east, and the island to the west. It shares boundaries with townships like Tang Se, and the PDF holds a strong presence in all these areas.

As a result, the military council reached Pazigyi, on the outskirts of Kantbalu, only twice on foot in more than two years. However, it is known that U Myat Kyaw, the Chief Minister of Sagaing Region of the Military Council, and Major General Than Thiet, the Commander of the Northwestern Region Military Headquarters, frequently visit Kantbalu, with their latest visit recorded on March 31.

Dissemination of Information

The Red Flag has identified 15 posts from 9 disinformation accounts to analyze fake news related to Pazi. The Bad Actor accounts spreading misinformation include MT News: Myanmar Transparency, Han Nyein Oo, Nai Wai, Kyaw Swar, Aye Chan May, million (ICG), テイ・ザ Gold, and Right Land Kachin Daily News.

The primary topics propagated by the military lobbies were claims that Pazi Gyi Village housed a civilian arsenal belonging to the NUG, not the villagers. They asserted that PDFs were concealing military targets and insisted that all the deceased were PDFs. Furthermore, these accounts fabricated and disseminated misinformation suggesting that the military was quelling military targets and terrorists, emphasizing supposed international support for their actions.


Media Presentations

In the capacity of news and information verification departments in Sagaing Division, Kantbalu Township, real-time news concerning the coup army’s air attack on Pazigyi village on April 11 was presented, and the information was successfully verified. It was noted that at least 10 news outlets covered nearly 30 items on the incident.

Considering the reported highest number of civilian casualties resulting from military airstrikes, there were international objections, and protest statements for Pazi were widely presented internationally.

Pazi Gyi holds the record for the highest number of civilian casualties due to air strikes during the resistance war following the 2021 coup. However, preceding Pazi Gyi, there were numerous instances of mass killings.

According to the NUG Human Rights Ministry’s statement in March, there have been almost 70 mass killings involving 5 or more people since the coup, resulting in more than 700 deaths. Sagaing Division experienced the highest number of occurrences, totaling 46 times.

Caption: Myanmar Now news agency’s base graph illustrating civilian casualties from War Council airstrikes with high casualties.

News links that have been studied:

  1. 97 corpses, including 34 children, have been recovered in Pazigyi village.
  2. Latest status of Pazi Gyi village: Contact for inquiries.
  3. Pazigyi village was again attacked by the air force again
  4. Pazi Gyi locals, were unable to even invite a monk for the day.
  5. Pazigyi village has already been invaded by the military council, and neighboring villages are fleeing.
  6. Civilian casualties: Airstrikes by the SAC caused numerous deaths.
  7. 40 children were killed in an airstrike in Pazigyi village.
  8. Pazi Gyi Village Air Attack Ceasefire: Ethnic Groups Condemn.
  9. Statements from those who lost family members in the Pazigyi village airstrike.
  10. The image spread after the aerial attack on Pazigyi village.
  11. Press release regarding the air attack on Pazigyi village.
  12. Up to 168 civilians were killed in the Pazigyi airstrike, and clearance is still underway.
  13. Up to 130 dead were found in Pazigyi airstrike.
  14. The NUG Interior announced that informants had been arrested in the Pazi airstrike.
  15. ASEAN chairman strongly condemns Pazigyi’s behavior.
  16. International condemnation of Pazigyi airstrike.
  17. An explanation of the Pazigyi incident and the meaning of war crimes.
  18. Indonesia’s protest against the air attack on Pazigyi village: A rally held in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta.
  19. The military council sent infantry near Pazigyi village, urging avoidance by nearby villages.
  20. “Did my daughter eat from a bowl of rice?”
  21. What did the military council say about the Pazigyi attack? The UN and the international community condemned the Pazigyi attack.
  22. There was a battle between two sides near the village of Pazi Gyi, resulting in the arrest of some villagers.
  23. Protest in South Korea to call for international action against the attack on Pazigyi.
  24. The KIO announced that the Pazigyi airstrike was a deliberate bombing of the population.
  25. Shoot the big Pazigyi again with a fighter plane.

People’s Opinions

Although the military concealed the fact that civilians were not involved in the shooting in Pazigyi, local villagers, asking aid workers, found that almost 40 children, including civilians, were killed due to the real-time reports presented by the news media. Therefore, despite being watched, arrested, and threatened by the military council through social media, they expressed their condolences for Pazigyi through campaigns across the country. There have also been expressions of condolences internationally.

However, there are also views from the community of military supporters who comment that even if the people were present during the Pazigyi incident, they should die for supporting the terrorists. Here are some screenshots for learning.

The Red Flag conducted studies on both the private press conference held by the villagers of Pazi Gyi and the press conference held by the NUG. The findings and analysis are summarized as follows:

  1. Pazigyi village is an ordinary village in Kantbalu township and not a location with a PDF and NUG base.
    Due to loudspeakers at the community’s cultural field during a donation event, residents did not hear the air traffic control call and were unaware of the plane’s arrival.
  2. The bombing occurred near the village, specifically in the field.
  3. Despite no formal reporting, the community tradition allows people to find out about donations.
  4. The press conference photos and television coverage indicated civilian casualties, including many children.
  5. Both villagers and the NUG denied the military council’s claim of a PDF headquarters in Pazigyi village.
  6. After announcing the completion of clearing Pazigyi village, the military council conducted additional airstrikes and infantry columns for arson, causing residents to flee.
  7. Following the incident, the entire village refrained from serving food on the first day of the new year, and families suffered emotional damage due to simultaneous losses.
  8. General Min Aung Hlaing declared war on PDFs and supporting EAOs on Tatmadaw Day, leading to a series of airstrikes in Waibula town and Pazigyi village in Chin State.
  9. Despite international calls to halt violence, including from the United Nations and ASEAN, mass killings in Myanmar continued to escalate.
  10. Major General Zaw Min Tun, the coup army’s spokesman, admitted suppression in the Pazi Gyi incident, aligning with international press responses.

Paradoxical Findings

Discrepancy in Event Description:

The villagers claimed that the donation event coincided with the opening of the NUG government’s public administration office and a housewarming ceremony. However, the NUG government insisted that it was solely a housewarming ceremony.

Identification of Victims:

The National Unity Government (NUG) provided information on the names, ages, and fathers names of the 168 individuals who died in the April 11th airstrike. The NUG stated that, apart from the 16 public security members, over a few hundred were civilians. Almost 140 people from Pazigyi village alone were identified as participants.

Composition of Casualties:

There is a contradiction in the reported composition of the more than 170 individuals who died. While some were identified as PKP members and PDFs, villagers asserted that the majority were civilians and children. Some of the reported PDFs were described as having only hand-made guns, and a Pazigyi village resident mentioned their limited weaponry, including hammers and a few single-shot guns, with no mention of an arsenal.