(Rangoon) Dozens of people have been killed in one of Burma’s deadliest airstrikes since the 2021 coup, which the junta confirmed was behind it, prompting condemnation from the international community .

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said he was “horrified” after this attack on Tuesday, in “flagrant disregard for the rules of international law. »

“It seems that children dancing, along with other civilians, during the opening ceremony of a center in Pazi Gyi village, Kanbalu district, are among the victims,” ​​Türk said. in a press release.

At least 50 dead and dozens injured have been reported by BBC Burmese, The Irrawaddy and Radio Free Asia, but the death toll could be as high as 100, according to a rescue worker from an armed rebel group contacted by AFP.

He indicated the presence of children among the victims.

The ruling junta acknowledged, overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday, “ that there could be people wearing civilian clothes ”, without mentioning a balance sheet, through its spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun.

But the army insisted it was targeting a gathering of armed opponents – the opening of an office of the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), which it calls “terrorists”. Some of the dead were uniformed anti-coup fighters, the representative said.

“According to the information we have obtained on the ground, those killed are not solely because of our attack. There were mines planted by the PDF around this area,” he said.

A fighter plane and a combat helicopter were deployed during the attack, a security source told AFP.

Washington said it was “deeply concerned” by the attacks, which “underscore once again the regime’s disregard for human life and its responsibility for the terrible political and humanitarian crisis that has plagued Burma since the February coup. 2021,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement.

Witnesses contacted by AFP also reported around a hundred deaths. Videos circulating on social networks – the authenticity of which AFP could not confirm – show bodies scattered in houses in ruins.

It is one of the deadliest attacks by the junta, regularly accused of war crimes, since the February 1, 2021 coup that plunged Burma into chaos.

It comes at the dawn of the celebrations for the Burmese New Year, Thingyan, which last several days.

“This reinforces the climate of fear. There will be more reluctance to organize mass events of any kind, given the risk of bombing”, denounced to AFP Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia of the organization Human Rights Watch. .

“As the people of Burma celebrate the New Year, the EU is deeply shocked by reports of the latest atrocities committed by the military regime in Sagaing, which have claimed the lives of dozens of innocent civilians,” said for his part Nabila Massrali, European Union spokesperson for foreign affairs.

The National Unity Government (NUG), an opposition body founded by former MPs from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, many in exile, denounced a “new example of the indiscriminate use of extreme force against innocent civilians”.

The Sagaing region, near Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, is fiercely resisting the junta, and intense fighting has been going on there for months. More than half of the 1.2 million displaced people linked to the clashes come from this province, according to the UN.

Burma has been torn apart by violent conflict between the junta and its opponents since the February 1, 2021 coup that toppled elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now in prison.

The Burmese army is banking on its air advantage, in particular thanks to its Russian and Chinese-made jets, to compensate for its difficulties on the ground in a conflict that is bogged down.

The United Nations counted more than 300 airstrikes in 2022, as well as several incidents involving civilian casualties.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has conditioned the holding of elections he has promised since taking power on the return of “peace and stability” in the country. The junta acknowledged in February that a third of Burma was beyond its control.

A local human rights watchdog has cited more than 3,200 people killed since the coup, when the army counted more than 5,000, which it attributes to its opponents.