Security forces in Myanmar fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas to break up anti-coup protests on Thursday, as demonstrators returned to streets a day after the United Nations said 38 people had been killed in the bloodiest crackdown since last month’s military takeover.
The rallies in Yangon, Mandalay, Myingan and other cities and towns came as thousands of mourners attended a funeral for a 19-year-old woman who was killed in the previous day’s violence.
The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”.
At least 54 people had been killed in total but the actual toll could be much higher, she said. More than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.
“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Protesters said they refused to accept the February 1 military coup and were determined to press for the release of elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and recognition of her victory in an election last November.
“We know that we can always get shot and killed with live bullets,” activist Maung Saungkha told Reuters news agency. “But there is no meaning to staying alive under the junta.”
In an increasingly common sight across the city, protesters have refashioned oil drums and satellite dishes into battle shields. They are also using clotheslines and fire extinguishers to block police visibility. pic.twitter.com/mKDHlFiPdf
— Frontier Myanmar (@FrontierMM) March 4, 2021
In Sachaung, a residential neighbourhood transformed with barricades built out of sandbags, tyres, bricks and barbed wire, Thinzar Shunlei Yi described Wednesday’s killings as “horrific”.
“It was devastating to learn the military in Myanmar has never changed since 1962,” she told AFP.
But “resistance is now our duty,” she said, pledging to protest every day.
In some parts of Yangon, protesters hung sheets and sarongs across the street to obscure the police’s line of sight and uncoiled barbed wire to reinforce barricades.
Tens of thousands of people are protesting against the military coup in the town of Myingyan in central Myanmar despite the fact that one of the protesters in this town was shot dead during the crackdown yesterday. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/ttb8ULIt3D
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) March 4, 2021
Police later opened fire and used tear gas to break up protests in the city as well as in the central town of Monywa, witnesses said. Police also fired in the town of Pathein, to the west of Yangon, media reported.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Protesters gathered elsewhere, including in the historic temple town of Bagan where hundreds marched carrying pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi and a banner saying: “Free our leader”, a witness said.
Five fighter jets made several low passes in formation over the second city of Mandalay early on Thursday, residents said, in what appeared to be a show of military might.
‘Immediate end to repression’
The military action came as concern over Wednesday’s killings grew, with French President Emmanuel Macron joining the United States and the European Union in condemning the violence.
“France calls for an immediate end to the repression in Myanmar, for the liberation of people who have been held and for the respect of the democratic choice of the Myanmar people as expressed during the recent elections. We are at your side,” he wrote in a Twitter post.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a group of Southeast Asian legislators, also expressed “revulsion” at the violence, saying the “scenes emerging from Myanmar are sickening”.
Charles Santiago, chair of the group, added: “The world cannot stand idly by as the military guns down its people, and attempts to return the country to full-scale isolationist rule. We cannot allow another generation of Myanmar youths to lose their lives, and their hope for the future, to this military”.
Richard Weir, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said “Myanmar’s security forces now seem intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement through wanton violence and sheer brutality”.
In one particularly brutal incident, a man in custody appeared to have been shot in the back, the group said.
There was no immediate comment from the military.
Both HRW and Fortify Rights have called on the UN Security Council, which is due to discuss the situation in the country in a closed meeting on Friday, to impose a global arms embargo against the Myanmar military.
UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, who has also backed that call, said the “systematic brutality” of the military was again on display.
“I urge members of the UN Security Council to view the photos/videos of the shocking violence,” he said on Twitter.
Yanghee Lee, a former UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, said the military was “terrorising” the people of the Southeast Asian nation and said: “What we are seeing now in Myanmar are definitely crimes against humanity committed by the military and security forces against its own people.”
In a virtual press conference on Thursday, Lee urged the world not to recognise Myanmar’s military as the country’s legitimate government.
“It would be a betrayal of the peoples of Myanmar, who have responded by risking their livelihoods, their safety and increasingly, their lives to reject the coup,” she said.
Lee and two other international experts who investigated the Myanmar military’s brutal crackdown on the Rohingya minority in 2017 have now launched a group called the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar “to support the peoples of Myanmar in their fight for human rights, democracy, peace, justice and accountability”.
‘Everything will be OK’
Save the Children said four children were killed on Wednesday including a 14-year-old boy who Radio Free Asia reported was shot dead by a soldier on a passing convoy of military trucks.
The soldiers loaded his body onto a truck and left, according to the report.
Images of a 19-year-old woman, Ma Kyal Sin, one of two shot dead in Mandalay, showed her wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK”.
Also known as Angel, the young woman was killed by a shot to the head.
Thousands of people attended her funeral in Mandalay on Thursday, according to local media.
Myat Thu, who was with Ma Kyal Sin at the protests, recalled a brave young woman who kicked open a water pipe so protesters could wash tear gas from their eyes, and who lobbed a tear gas canister back towards the police.
“When the police opened fire she told me ‘Sit! Sit! Bullets will hit you. You look like you’re on a stage,’” the 23-year-old told Reuters.
“She cared for and protected others as a comrade.”
Before the police assault, Ma Kyal Sin could be heard on video shouting: “We won’t run” and “Blood must not be shed”.
The young woman knew she was risking her life.
On Facebook, she had posted her medical details and the request to donate her organs if she were killed. Her friend Kyaw Zin Hein, shared a copy of her last message to him on social media. It read: “This might be the last time I say this. Love you so much. Don’t forget”.
“She was a happy girl, she loved her family and her father loved her so much too,” said Myat Thu, who is now in hiding.
“We are not in a war. There is no reason to use live bullets on people. If they are human, they will not do it.”