Five civilians including a mother and her two-year-old daughter have died and two churches were destroyed after air strikes by Myanmar’s military on two villages inhabited largely by ethnic Karen, relief organisations have said.

The dead from the air strikes on villages in Karen state’s Mutraw district on Thursday also included the pastor of a Baptist church, a Catholic deacon and a church layman, according to the Karen Women’s Organisation and the Free Burma Rangers.

Another woman and her child were wounded in a second village, they said.

The Karen, who live largely in the eastern part of Myanmar along the border with Thailand, are one of the most established ethnic minority rebel forces and have been fighting for decades for greater autonomy from the central government.

Flattened homes
Homes flattened by suspected military air strikes in the district of Mutraw (Karen Human Rights Group via AP)

Fighting increased after February 2021, when the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Air strikes are killing civilians and destroying homes, medical centres, churches, schools, libraries, and monasteries,” the Karen women’s group said in a statement.

The military used deadly force to suppress peaceful protests against its takeover, which triggered armed resistance by pro-democracy forces that joined hands with some of the ethnic rebel groups, including the Karen.

The military-installed government then launched offensives in the countryside to try to secure territory using air strikes and burning villages.

The National Unity Government, an underground group that calls itself the country’s legitimate government and serves as an umbrella organisation for opponents of military rule, said in a statement this week that since the army takeover, “460 innocent civilians, mostly children, have lost their lives due to (the military’s) repeated air strikes”.

Myanmar strike
The strikes also destroyed two churches, relief organisations said (Karen Human Rights Group via AP)

The Free Burma Rangers said their volunteers watched from a distance as jets made two bombing runs on Thursday over Lay Wah, one of the attacked villages in Karen state’s Mutraw district, also called Papun.

They said the volunteers arrived after dark at Lay Wah, where the five people died and the churches were destroyed.

The other bombed village was Paw Khee Lah, where a woman and child were wounded, according to the Karen women’s group.