April 11 (UPI) -- Opposition officials in Myanmar on Tuesday said the military junta conducted airstrikes on a civilian gathering in what is being considered one of the deadliest attacks on civilians since the military took over the country.Demonstrators hold up signs protesting Myanmar's military coup in March 2021. On Tuesday, officials with the opposition government said the military junta killed at least 53 people in airstrikes on a newly opened government office. File
Acting President Duwa Lashi La of the National Unity Government -- the shadow opposition government to Myanmar's ruling military junta -- said on Facebook early Tuesday that 53 people had been confirmed dead and 20 more had been injured, although he expected the death toll to rise.
Local news outlets reported that the death toll could be as high as 100.
"The Myanmar Air Force dropped multiple bombs on a civilian gathering of several hundred people, while attack helicopters strafed the crowd," he said. "Today we mourn the loss of these citizens of Myanmar and stand in solidarity with their families. They were men, women and children who posed no threat to the Myanmar military."
The airstrikes took place at about 8 a.m. local time, in the village of Pa Zi Gyi in Sagaing, at a ceremony for the opening of an office set up by the opposition government.
The Myanmar military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, overthrowing the civilian-led government and jailed leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Dawn Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, the military has used violence to squash widespread protests around the country while arresting many of its opposition leaders.
"The military continues its mindless war on our country's own people," Lashi La said. "Their sole aim is to consolidate power through death and destruction. They will not succeed. We will continue our fight for a new Myanmar.
"Our goal is a Myanmar in which such atrocities cannot occur and where power derives from the will of the people, not force of arms. We call for condemnation of this senseless massacre. We ask our neighbors and ASEAN for immediate assistance with humanitarian aid to this region and the other regions of Myanmar, where 1.8 million people are already displaced."
Some images reportedly from the scene after the military attack show civilians on the ground dead along with a heavily damaged building.
The attack -- which occurred as the country is about to celebrate its Thingyan new year -- came under swift international condemnation from nations that have sanctioned the junta government while human rights activists called on those countries to do more.
"These violent attacks further underscore the regime's disregard for human life and its responsibility for the dire political and humanitarian crisis in Burma following the February 2021 coup," U.S. State Department principal deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement, while referring to Myanmar by its former name and calling on the junta to "cease the horrific violence, allow unhindered humanitarian access and to respect the genuine and inclusive democratic aspirations of the people of Burma."
As of the second anniversary of the coup, the Biden administration has sanctioned 80 people and 32 entities in an effort to deprive the junta of means to continue unleashing violence upon its people.
Britain, the European Union and Canada have also individually blacklisted dozens of people and entities.
Following the airstrike Monday, Amnesty International and Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, separately called on those nations to stop all aviation fuel deliveries to the country.
"Why hasn't the UK, EU, USA, Singapore, etc stopped their companies involvement in supplying aviation fuel to Myanmar, when they know it can be used for airstrikes like this?" Farmaner asked on Twitter.
"There are still hundreds of companies and individuals funding and involved in human rights violations, which haven't been sanctioned. Why?
"Western countries have the right policy of sanctioning revenue and arms to the Myanmar military, but it's like they only turn up at the shooting range every few months and deliberately avoid hitting bullseyes."
Montes Ferrer, Amnesty International's business and human rights researcher, said countries, including the Untied States, Canada and the EU bloc, have recently taken action to stem the flow of fuel to the Tatmadaw, but it's not enough.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, better known as ASEAN, "must step up and play a leading role in resolving this human rights catastrophe," Ferrer said in a statement, while urging the United Nations Security Council to find ways to hold the junta accountable.
"The international community can and must do more to stop attacks on civilians in Myanmar," Ferrer said.
"The Myanmar military's attacks against innocent people, including today's airstrike in Sagaing, is enabled by world indifference and those supplying them with weapons," Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the Asian nation, said in a statement.
"How many Myanmar children need to die before world leaders take strong, coordinated action to stop this carnage?"
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, nearly 3,240 people have been killed by the junta since the coup, with more than 21,300 people having been detained, of which fewer than 4,000 have been released.
The ruling junta has benefited from Russian and Chinese aircraft. The group has not commented on the attack and has previously denied such attacks on civilians.