At least six children were killed and 17 wounded when army helicopters shot at a school in Myanmar, media reports and residents said on Monday, as the military said it opened fire because rebels were using the building to attack its forces.
Myanmar has been gripped by violence since the army overthrew an elected government early last year. Opposition movements, some of them armed, have emerged across the country, which the military has countered with lethal force.
Reuters could not independently verify details of the violence that took place on Friday in the village of Let Yet Kone in the central Sagaing region.
According to reports from the Mizzima and Irrawaddy news outlets, army helicopters had opened fire on the school housed in a Buddhist monastery in the village.
Some children were killed on the spot by the shooting, while others died after troops entered the village, the reports said.
Two residents said the bodies were later transported by the military to a township 11 kilometres away and buried.
Images posted on social media showed what appeared to be damage including bullet holes and blood stains at a school building.
In a statement, the military said the Kachin Independence Army, a rebel group, and the People's Defence Force (PDF), an umbrella organisation of armed guerrillas that the junta describes as terrorists, had been hiding in the monastery and using the village to transport weapons in the area.
Security forces sent by helicopter had conducted “a surprise inspection” and were attacked by PDF and the KIA inside houses and the monastery, it said.
It said security forces had responded and that some villagers had been killed in the clash and the wounded were taken to public hospitals for treatment. The statement accused the armed groups of using villagers as human shields and said that weapons including 16 handmade bombs had later been seized.
In a statement after Friday's violence, Myanmar's pro-democracy shadow government, known as the National Unity Government (NUG), accused the junta of “targeted attacks” on schools.
The NUG also called for the release of 20 pupils and teachers it said had been arrested following the air strikes.
Documented violent attacks on schools surged to about 190 last year in Myanmar from 10 the year before, according to NGO Save the Children.
Use of schools as bases by both the military and armed groups also increased across the country, the organisation said in a report this month, disrupting education and endangering children.