Myanmar military junta ‘deliberately bombing medical facilities’ with secret jungle hospital now being sought

World

The Myanmar military junta is deliberately targeting medical facilities and medical staff with airstrikes, raids by soldiers and the burning down of buildings, using a map of public hospitals and clinics they drew up in 2019, according to a new report shared exclusively with Sky News.

Myanmar Witness, a project run by the UK-based Centre for Information Resilience that collects, analyses, verifies, and stores evidence related to human rights abuses in Myanmar, has identified 16 separate attacks on medical infrastructure and staff in just three months at the start of this year.

Earlier this year, Sky News obtained exclusive access to the last remaining hospital in one area of Myanmar.

All the others had been bombed or burnt down.

This report confirms that the eyewitness testimony, interviews, and physical evidence gathered and recorded by Sky News in June of this year is indicative of a nationwide attack by the military on medical facilities.

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7:29

Inside Myanmar: The secret hospital

Analysing data from eyewitnesses, Myanmar Witness claims the junta’s “strategic use of fire and airstrikes has been a mainstay of the conflict in Myanmar”.

The junta seized control of Myanmar, also known as Burma, in a coup in February 2021, leading to widespread street protests that were brutally suppressed by the security forces.

Since then, the country has descended into civil war with thousands of mainly young men and women joining ethnic militia and armies fighting the government’s soldiers.

Most of the fighting takes place in what is called “the dry zone”, and most of the attacks on the medical facilities and staff are in that zone, according to the report.

This war’s frontline changes continuously, and access to medical care for civilians wherever they may find themselves is more vital now than ever.

Read more:
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For a month, our Sky News team lived undercover in the states of Karen, Karenni, and Shan, all located in the dry zone.

While there, we came across example after example of destroyed hospitals, village clinics, and casualty collection points – frontline medical evacuation points for injured fighters and civilians.

During our time in Myanmar, we were helped by aid workers, opposition fighters, and medical staff, some of whom were based at a secret hospital not included on the government’s official medical facilities list because it was built after the list was compiled.

However, staff there say the hospital is being actively sought out by the Myanmar military now they know it exists. It is the last remaining hospital in its geographic area of operation.

We are not naming the hospital or its location to protect its staff and patients.

So far, neither the military nor the air force have been able to find the hospital, as it is well-hidden beneath the jungle canopy and built into the side of a mountain.

This hospital is the subject of a new Sky News current affairs programme, The Last Hospital: 30 Days in Myanmar.

The programme tells the story of the work of the medical staff saving lives on the frontline against all odds and explores attacks on other medical facilities in Myanmar.

There are more than a dozen bomb shelters dotted around the hospital, one of them is directly attached to a ward housing multiple amputees. That is how seriously they take the threat.

Image:
A bomb shelter built into the hillside

A surgeon at the hospital, known by his revolutionary name Dr Vincent, narrowly survived a military bomb attack on the sister hospital to the secret hospital.

“When they attacked us, we had to run and hide in a bomb shelter we had built, then we had to get the patients to safety,” he told me.

“The first bomb missed by a few hundred metres, so we all had time to get to safety before the next bomb struck, this time hitting the hospital, it was terrifying, I still have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result, and I live in fear even now.”

“It was a targeted attack, they knew we’re a hospital,” he added.

The Myanmar Witness report identified four attacked hospitals for closer investigation. One of them, in Shan State, is the Kayan National Health Committee (KNHC) medical facility, referred to locally as the Saung Phee.

Image:
Shrapnel damage at the Kayan National Health Committee medical facility

We visited this hospital when we were in the country and can confirm the hospital was indeed destroyed – it looked like the patients and staff had literally run for their lives.

The hospital windows were all blown out, the walls were peppered with shrapnel, and there was glass and debris everywhere.

In one of the rooms a needle still sat in a bottle of medicine, as if it was about to be dispensed, and in the wards drips still hung from the sides of hospital beds.

Sky News spoke to a survivor and eyewitness to the attack on this medical facility.

We found Asumpte in a refugee camp with her family. She had given birth in the now bombed-out hospital just before it was attacked on 25 April.

Two other new mums on her ward were killed.

Holding her newborn, she told us she didn’t think the hospital would be attacked because it’s a hospital, and that they didn’t know the bombs were coming.

“I ran as soon as the first bomb dropped. There were people who got hit, although there were many more who were injured, everybody was just running around,” she told me.

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5:41

What’s happening in Myanmar?

The Myanmar Witness report concludes that the Myanmar military is attacking medical facilities, as it “struggles to maintain control and quell opposition across the country”.

The targeting of hospitals and medical facilities is illegal, the report adds.

“It is clear that the conflict is having a sustained and long-term impact on civilians’ access to medical support.”

Sky News concluded from its visit that the targeting of medical facilities, places of worship, and schools by the Myanmar junta was a regular occurrence.

The junta continues to deny these attacks are happening, dismissing it all as propaganda.

You can watch The Last Hospital: 30 Days In Myanmar on Wednesday 20 September on Sky Documentaries and on Thursday 21 September on Sky News.

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