Army fires at funeral as Myanmar mourns day of ‘mass murder’

Defence chiefs of 12 countries condemn Myanmar army after 114 people killed in deadliest crackdown yet on protests.

A policeman aims a gun at protesters in Myitkyina in Myanmar's Kachin state
Policeman aiming his weapon as security forces stage a crackdown on protests against the military coup in Myitkyina in Myanmar's Kachin state [Screengrab/Myitkyina News via AFPTV]

Myanmar security forces have opened fire on people gathered for the funeral of one of the 114 people killed on Saturday in the bloodiest day since the February 1 coup, as the defence chiefs of 12 countries condemned the military for its crackdown on demonstrators.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the shooting at the funeral on Sunday in the town of Bago, near the commercial capital, Yangon, according to three people who spoke to Reuters news agency.

“While we are singing the revolution song for him, security forces just arrived and shot at us,” said a woman called Aye, who was at the service for Thae Maung Maung, a 20-year-old student who was shot on Saturday. “People, including us, run away as they opened fire.”

Two people were killed in firing on protests on Sunday in separate incidents elsewhere, witnesses and news reports said. One person was killed when troops opened fire overnight on a group of protesters near the capital Naypyidaw, Myanmar Now news reported.

So far on Sunday, there were no reports of large-scale protests in Yangon or in the country’s second city, Mandalay, which bore the brunt of the casualties on Saturday. At least six children between the ages of 10 and 16 were among those killed on Saturday, according to news reports and witnesses.

Meanwhile, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States were among the countries that signed a joint statement on Sunday denouncing the military’s crackdown.

“A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting – not harming – the people it serves,” the defence chiefs said. “We urge the Myanmar armed forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions.”

The other signatories were Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Several funerals were held on Sunday for some of the victims of the latest crackdown on anti-coup protesters. In Mandalay, the family of Aye Ko, a father-of-four, commemorated his life at a service after he was killed overnight.

“We are told by the neighbours that Aye Ko was shot and thrown into the fire,” a relative told AFP news agency. “He was the only one who fed the family, losing him is a great loss for the family.”

The General Strike Committee of Nationalities (GSCN), one of the main protest groups, paid tribute to those who died, saying in a Facebook post: “We salute our heroes who sacrificed lives during this revolution”. It added, “We Must Win This REVOLUTION.”

Saturday, Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day, had also brought some of the heaviest fighting since the coup between the army and the ethnic armed groups that control swaths of the country.

Military jets killed at least three people in a raid on a village controlled by an armed group from the Karen minority, a civil society group said on Sunday, after the Karen National Union faction earlier said it had overrun an army post near the Thai border, killing 10 people. The air raids sent villagers fleeing into the jungle.

There was no immediate comment from the Myanmar military.

‘Day of terror, dishonour’

The violence came as the military staged a major show of might for its annual Armed Forces Day.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader, said during a parade in Naypyidaw that the military would protect the people and strive for democracy. The general deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, alleging fraud in a November election that returned her National League for Democracy to power.

The European Union’s delegation to Myanmar said that the 76th Myanmar Armed Forces Day “will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour”.

“The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts,” it added.

Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing views an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021 [AP Photo]
This handout photo taken and released by Dawei Watch on March 27, 2021, shows protesters making the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei [Dawei Watch via AFP]

US Ambassador Thomas Vajda said in a statement “security forces are murdering unarmed civilians”.

“These are not the actions of a professional military or police force,” he wrote. “Myanmar’s people have spoken clearly: they do not want to live under military rule.”

Separately, the US Embassy said shots were fired Saturday at its cultural centre in Yangon, though no one was wounded.

UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said it was time for the world to take action – if not through the UN Security Council, then through an international emergency summit. He said the military government should be cut off from funding, such as oil and gas revenues, and from access to weapons.

“Words of condemnation or concern are frankly ringing hollow to the people of Myanmar while the military junta commits mass murder against them,” he said in a statement. “The people of Myanmar need the world’s support. Words are not enough. It is past time for robust, coordinated action.”

‘Impossible to express the pain’

The death toll in Myanmar has been steadily rising as authorities grow more forceful in suppressing opposition to the coup.

Up through Friday, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a monitoring group, said it has verified 328 deaths in the post-coup crackdown. More than 2,400 people are in detention, it said.

The Myanmar Now news portal said the 114 killed on Saturday included a 13-year-old girl in Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay and a 13-year-old boy in the central Sagaing region.

At least 40 were killed in Mandalay and at least 27 were killed in the commercial hub of Yangon, it said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Saturday’s events showed that the military, known in Myanmar as the Tatmadaw, should be prosecuted in international courts of law.

“This is a day of suffering and mourning for the Burmese people, who have paid for the Tatmadaw’s arrogance and greed with their lives, time and time again,” he said.

New US and European sanctions this week increased external pressure on the military. But Myanmar’s generals have enjoyed some support from Russia and China, both veto-holding members of the UN Security Council that could block any potential UN action.

Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin attended Saturday’s military parade in Naypyidaw, having met senior military leaders a day earlier.

Diplomats said eight countries – Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam – sent representatives, but Russia was the only one to send a minister to the parade on Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of the resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945.

Dr Sasa, a spokesman for the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), an anti-coup group set up by deposed politicians, said the decision by the eight countries to attend the parade was “disgraceful” and “unacceptable”. He also urged the global community to designate Myanmar’s military as a “terrorist organisation”.

“It is impossible for us to express the pain that we feel when we saw those foreign diplomats joining hands with those celebrations of military generals. All those weapons they displayed today is to only kill the people of Myanmar,” Sasa told Al Jazeera.

“How many people need to die before the international community takes action? … If there’s no action, only words, I’m afraid my country will have to go through the greatest civil war, the likes of which we have never seen before.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies