More killed as Myanmar forces open fire on anti-coup protesters

Reports say at least eight protesters killed and many wounded after security forces attack demonstrators in several cities.

Myanmar security forces shot and killed at least eight people on Wednesday, according to accounts on social media and local news reports, as authorities extended their lethal crackdown on protests against last month’s coup.

Videos from various locations showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down, and even beating an ambulance crew.

A doctor told the AFP news agency that one protester was shot in the chest in Mandalay while another, a 19-year-old woman, was shot in her head.

The Frontier Magazine also reported the killing, saying police first used tear gas and rubber bullets at a crowd numbering in the thousands in Mandalay. They opened fire later when the crowd regrouped at the same place and resumed their sit-in protest, the publication said.

Myanmar has been in chaos since February 1, when the military seized power in a coup and detained much of the country’s civilian leadership, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military justified the takeover with unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the November 2020 election that returned Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power. The power grab has triggered widespread international condemnation as well as nationwide demonstrations demanding a return to civilian rule.

In the town of Monywa, a rescue worker told AFP that his team handled the dead bodies of four people and contacted their families. The Monywa Gazette, a local news outlet, put the death toll at five people.

There were also reports of live fire deaths and injuries in the main city of Yangon, where security forces arrested 300 people and “violently beat up” some protesters, according to the Myanmar Now website.

Video posted on social media showed long lines of young men, hands on their heads, filing into army trucks as police and soldiers stood guard.

Police and soldiers also blocked off the Hledan Centre junction and fired tear gas at demonstrators in Yangon’s Sanchaung area, but the crowds regrouped minutes after dispersing, Myanmar Now reported.

Protests also took place in the central towns of Monywa, Myingyan and Magway. The Monywa Gazette reported five people were wounded when security forces fired live ammunition there.

There was no immediate comment from Myanmar’s military.

‘Unique situation’ at UN

The killings came as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to make a breakthrough in a virtual foreign ministers’ meeting on Myanmar.

While united in a call for restraint, only four members – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore – called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees.

In New York, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, insisted that he remained the country’s legitimate representative after the military authorities sent a letter to the global body saying that the envoy had been dismissed from his post and that his deputy was now in charge.

The dismissal came after Kyaw Moe Tun made an emotional plea to a UN General Assembly meeting on Friday, calling for “the strongest possible action from the international community” to restore democracy to the country.

Anti-coup protesters take cover behind makeshift barricades in Mandalay, Myanmar on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 [AP]
Protesters hold homemade shields as they run during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 3, 2021 [Stringer/ AFP]

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed on Tuesday that the UN received two “contradictory” letters and is reviewing them to see who is the UN ambassador and whether the assembly’s Credentials Committee will get involved.

“We are in a very unique situation we have not seen in a long time,” Dujarric said. “We are trying to sort through all the legal, protocol and other implications” and are “trying to resolve things as quickly as possible from our end”.

The letter from Kyaw Moe Tun, sent on Monday to General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir with a copy to the secretary-general, said President Win Myint and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi appointed him last year and that they remained lawfully elected to their roles.

“The perpetrators of the unlawful coup against the democratic government of Myanmar have no authority to countermand the legitimate authority of the president of my country,” Kyaw Moe Tun said in the letter.

“I wish therefore to confirm to you that I remain Myanmar’s permanent representative to the United Nations.”

The second letter to the secretary-general originated from Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was received on Tuesday, Dujarric said. It informed the UN that the State Administration Council, the body set up by the generals to run the country following the coup, had “terminated the duties and responsibilities” of ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun on February 27 and would no longer recognise his accreditation to the UN General Assembly.

Dated February 28, the letter said Myanmar’s deputy UN ambassador, Tin Maung Naing, had been assigned as the charge d’affaires of the UN mission.

Policemen armed with guns, slingshots and shields advance towards anti-coup protesters in Mandalay, Myanmar on March 3, 2021 [AP]
A protester holds a homemade shield during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon [Stringer/AFP]

Dujarric said the UN had not received any official notification of any change to Myanmar’s government since the February 1 coup.

The rival claims to represent Myanmar will probably now need to be considered by a nine-member UN Credentials Committee that reports to the General Assembly, which will then make the final decision.

The United States supported Kyaw Moe Tun and hailed his “bravery,” with a US Department of State spokesman saying “we understand that the permanent representative remains in his position”.

“We will continue to oppose the military coup and we will continue to support the restoration of Burma’s democratically elected civilian government,” the US spokesman said.

US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield also held a virtual meeting with Kyaw Moe Tun on Tuesday to express her support.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies