Save the Children has confirmed that two of its staff were killed in a Christmas Eve massacre blamed on junta troops that left the charred remains of dozens of people on a highway in eastern Myanmar.
Anti-junta fighters said they found more than 30 bodies, including women and children, on a highway in Kayah state where pro-democracy rebels have been fighting the military.
Save the Children later said two of its staff members had been caught up in the incident and were missing.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup in February, with more than 1,300 people killed in a crackdown by security forces, according to a local monitoring group.
Self-proclaimed people’s defence forces have sprung up across the country to fight the junta, and drawn the military into a bloody stalemate of clashes and reprisals.
On Tuesday Save the Children confirmed the two men were “among at least 35 people, including women and children, who were killed”.
“The military forced people from their cars, arrested some, killed many and burnt the bodies,” the charity said, adding the two men were new fathers.
“This news is absolutely horrifying,” said the charity’s chief executive, Inger Ashing. “We are shaken by the violence carried out against civilians and our staff, who are dedicated humanitarians, supporting millions of children in need across Myanmar.”
Myanmar’s junta previously said its troops had been attacked in Hpruso township on Friday after its troops attempted to stop seven cars driving in a “suspicious way”.
Troops killed a number of people in the following clash, a spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun, said, without giving details.
The Myanmar Witness monitor said it had confirmed local media reports and witness accounts from local fighters that 35 people including children and women were burnt and killed by the military in the attack.
Satellite data also showed a fire had occurred around 1pm local time (0630 GMT) on Friday in Hpruso, it added.
The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, said he was horrified by the reports and demanded the government conduct an investigation.
Save the Children, which has about 900 staff in Myanmar, later said it had suspended operations in Kayah state and several other regions.
In October, the group said its office in the western town of Thantlang was destroyed in junta shelling that also razed dozens of homes after clashes with a local anti-junta group.