Seven dead in Myanmar as Amnesty accuses army of ‘killing spree’

Deaths come as Myanmar’s military government accuses deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi of taking bribes.

People carry an injured protester on a stretcher during an anti-coup protest in North Dagon, Yangon [Reuters]

At least seven people have been killed in Myanmar after security forces opened fire on anti-coup protesters, according to witnesses and local media, as Myanmar’s military government accused deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi of accepting illegal payments.

The violence comes after the United Nations Security Council called on the military to “exercise utmost restraint” in its response to peaceful demonstrators and rights group Amnesty International accused the military of adopting battlefield tactics against peaceful demonstrators.

Six people were killed in the central town of Myaing on Thursday when security forces fired on a protest, one man who took part in the demonstration and helped carry bodies to hospital, told Reuters by telephone. A health worker there confirmed all six deaths.

“We protested peacefully,” the 31-year-old man said. “I couldn’t believe they did it.”

One person was killed in the North Dagon district of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, domestic media said. Photographs posted on Facebook showed a man lying prone on the street, bleeding from a head wound.

Myanmar has been in chaos since its military toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1. The power grab, just a decade after the end of 49 years of strict military rule, triggered huge protests nationwide. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group said security forces have killed more than 60 protesters and arrested 2,000 others in the ensuing crackdown.

The army has justified the coup by saying that the election, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, was marred by fraud – an assertion rejected by the electoral commission.

The military spokesman, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Thursday that Aung San Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments worth $600,000 as well as gold while in government.

The information had been verified and many people were being questioned, he added.

He said President Win Myint and several cabinet ministers had also engaged in corruption and that he had pressured the country’s election commission not to act on the military’s reports of irregularities.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand, said that Zaw Min Tun had failed to provide evidence of the new allegations.

“But we assume that these will be part of new charges which will be used to extend [Aung San Suu Kyi’s] detention,” he said.

Zaw Min Tun also reiterated on Thursday that the military would only be in charge for a certain period before holding an election. “We are on the road to authentic democracy,” he said.

The military government has previously promised a new election within a year, but has not set a date.

‘Killing spree’

The 15-member UN Security Council on Wednesday strongly condemned violence by Myanmar security forces against peaceful protesters, including women, youth and children. “The council calls for the military to exercise utmost restraint and emphasises that it is following the situation closely,” it said in a statement.

Language that would have condemned the February 1 coup and threatened possible further action was removed from the United Kingdom-drafted text, due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.

The Civil Disobedience Movement, a campaign group, said the latest killings demonstrate the need for a “stronger message” from the international community.

“Right after the UNSC produces a condemnation statement, the terrorist junta again murdered people in broad daylight. What kind of message does it send to UNSC?” the group said in a post on Twitter.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, accused the military of using an arsenal of battlefield weapons in its “killing spree” against protesters.

In its Thursday report, the human rights group said the weapons include light machine guns, sniper rifles and semi-automatic rifles. It added that those involved in the shootings were “unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity” elsewhere in the country.

There was no immediate comment from the military.

It has previously said it is acting with the utmost restraint in handling what it describes as demonstrations by “riotous protesters”, whom it accuses of attacking police and harming national security and stability.

‘Sound bombs on every street’

Despite the crackdowns, protests were also staged in half a dozen other towns on Thursday, according to Facebook posts.

In Yangon’s central Sanchaung township people had another sleepless night as security forces raided apartments searching for lost police weapons.

“They used sound bombs on every street,” said one resident. “We are asking friends who are outside of their homes not to come back here tonight because of the situation.”

Overnight, people also defied a curfew to hold several more candlelit vigils in parts of Yangon and also in Myingyan, southwest of the second city of Mandalay.

The United States tightened sanctions on Myanmar on Thursday, announcing punishing measures on two adult children of Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief who led the coup.

“The leaders of the coup, and their adult family members, should not be able to continue to derive benefits from the regime as it resorts to violence and tightens its stranglehold on democracy,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“We will not hesitate to take further action against those who instigate violence and suppress the will of the people.”

In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped Wednesday’s Security Council statement would push the military to realise it “is absolutely essential” that all prisoners are released and that the results of a November election are respected.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies