At least 10 anti-junta fighters and civilians were killed during clashes with the military in central Myanmar, villagers said Sunday, as locals increasingly take up arms against the regime in the coup-wracked country.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since a February coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, with 890 people killed in a junta crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
In some areas civilians have formed “defence forces” to combat the State Administration Council, as the junta dubs itself, often using hunting rifles or makeshift weapons cobbled together from household items.
The central Sagaing region has been the site of multiple skirmishes between defence forces and the military, and on Friday fighting broke out in Depayin township.
The US suspended a trade pact with Myanmar Monday and led international condemnation of the junta’s ruthless crackdown, as protesters and mourners took to the streets after the deadliest weekend since the military coup.
Soldiers and police have killed hundreds in a brutal campaign against mass anti-coup protests demanding a restoration of democracy and the release of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 107 people, including seven children, were killed on Saturday, the United Nations said, as the regime staged a major show of might for Armed Forces Day — an annual parade showcasing Myanmar’s military prowess.
More than 450 people have been killed in the crackdown on protests since the February 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, as security forces have used rubber bullets and live rounds to break up demonstrations.
US President Joe Biden’s administration announced Monday that the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which laid out ways to boost business but was not a fully-fledged deal, would remain suspended until democracy is restored.
“The United States strongly condemns the Burmese security forces’ brutal violence against civilians,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said, using Myanmar’s former name of Burma.
The statement effectively removes Myanmar from the Generalized System of Preferences, in which the United State grants duty-free access to some imports from developing nations if they meet key standards.
Despite the weekend violence, protesters turned out at dawn in towns and cities around the country.
Hundreds paraded through the town of Plate, in Mandalay region, with banners saying: “The people will never be defeated”.
In Sagaing region, hundreds of mourners lined the street to pay tribute to 20-year-old nursing student Thinzar Hein, who was shot dead while helping rescue workers provide first aid to injured protesters.
As child casualties mount, 60 youngsters in a town in eastern Karen state staged their own protest parade accompanied by their mothers, local media reported.
In Yangon, a one-year-old girl is recovering from surgery after being shot in the eye with a rubber bullet while playing near her house on Saturday, which was also her birthday.
– ‘Shameful, cowardly, brutal’ – The US suspension of the trade deal came after Biden condemned the weekend’s events as “terrible”, while UN rights envoys slammed the “shameful, cowardly, brutal” actions of the security forces.
The violence is “absolutely unacceptable,” UN chief Antonio Guterres said Monday, calling for a united global front to pressure the junta.
“We need more unity… (and) more commitment from the international community to put pressure in order to make sure that the situation is reversed,” he said.
The UN Security Council will meet Wednesday to discuss the situation, diplomatic sources said, after Britain called for emergency talks.
China added its voice to a chorus of international concern, calling for restraint from all sides.
“Violence and bloody clashes do not meet the interests of any party. The victims are the Myanmar people,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
Russia on Monday acknowledged it was developing ties with Myanmar after deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin and other officials joined the weekend parade, but said that did not mean it approved of the “tragic events” unfolding.
“We are very concerned by the growing number of civilian casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
So far, weeks of repeated pleas for restraint and even international sanctions have not persuaded the generals to ease off.
The brutality continued on Monday in Yangon, with three people killed, including a 20-year-old shot dead, rescue workers told AFP.
One person was also killed in the city of Bago, state media said, adding that a police officer also died in Mandalay after being set alight by protesters.
– Air strikes in Karen state – An estimated 3,000 people fled through the jungle to seek safety across the border in Thailand Sunday following targeted aerial assaults in eastern Myanmar’s Karen state, the Karen Women’s Organisation civil society group said.
However, around 2,000 people were pushed back as they approached the Thai border, local media said Monday. A spokesman for the Thai ministry of foreign affairs denied this.
According to Hsa Moo, an ethnic Karen and human rights activist, the weekend airstrikes — the first in the state in 20 years — killed four people and left nine injured.
The airstrikes targeted the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the country’s largest non-state armed groups.
There are fears that the Myanmar military may launch a major operation against Karen rebels, which could force more people to flee their homes.
Britain has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Myanmar, where scores of anti-coup protesters were killed over the weekend, diplomatic sources said Monday.
The 15 Security Council members will begin the session behind closed doors Wednesday with a briefing on the situation by the UN’s special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, the sources said.
It was not clear if the Security Council would be able to agree on a new declaration at the end of the meeting, something that requires unanimity among members that include Russia and China.
On March 10, the Security Council for the first time issued a declaration strongly condemning the Myanmar security forces’ “use of violence against peaceful protesters” that included women and children.
The declaration had been led by former colonial power Britain but the Security Council would not agree to make any reference to a “coup” or the possibility of international sanctions if the Myanmar military continued its attacks on protesters.
This was mainly due to opposition from China and Russia, but also from other Asian members of the Council like India and Vietnam.
On February 4, the Security Council voiced “deep concern” over the military coup in Myanmar and called for the “release of all detainees” including Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 107 people, including seven children, were killed on Saturday, the United Nations said.
People barricaded in a Yangon neighbourhood overnight said Tuesday that Myanmar security forces searched their homes room by room for anti-coup protesters, targeting apartments flying the flag of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted and detained Suu Kyi last month, triggering daily protests around the country to demand the junta restore democracy.
The police and army have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown and parts of Yangon have emerged as flashpoints for violence as protesters continue to defy authorities and take to the streets.
Crowds once again flocked to central San Chaung township in the commercial hub to call for Suu Kyi’s release in a Monday protest coinciding with International Women’s Day.
By nightfall, security forces had sealed off a block of streets with around 200 protesters still inside, according to the UN rights office, prompting alarm from diplomatic missions and calls for their safe release.
Sharp bangs were heard coming from the area, although it was not clear if the sounds were caused by gunfire or stun grenades.
Security forces started searching apartments after a nightly internet shutdown blanketed the country at 1:00 am local time (1830 GMT), residents told AFP, particularly those flying the red and gold flag of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party on their balconies.
One resident said her home — which did not have any protesters hiding inside — was searched.
“They searched every building on Kyun Taw road — they destroyed the locks of apartment buildings if they were locked downstairs,” said the resident, adding that she heard dozens were arrested.
By dawn, security forces appeared to have retreated, allowing some protesters to escape from the area.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called for restraint, a point reinforced Tuesday by the United States.
“We continue to urge the Burmese military to exercise maximum restraint,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, using Myanmar’s former name, calling on security forces to “respond peacefully with respect for human rights.”
San Chaung — a bustling township known for its cafes, bars and restaurants — has transformed since the protests began, with makeshift barricades of bamboo, sandbags, tables and barbed wire set up by protesters in an effort to slow security forces.
– ‘Diplomacy is the only response’ – Since the coup, more than 60 people have been killed as security forces have broken up anti-coup demonstrations, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group.
On Tuesday a community leader connected to the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government, Zaw Myat Linn, died during an interrogation following his arrest, the AAPP said. He was the second NLD member to have died in custody in recent days.
The news came as Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK was recalled, according to state media, after he urged the junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
“Diplomacy is the only response and answer to the current impasse,” Kyaw Zwar Minn said on Monday in a statement that was tweeted by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The Monday night raids in San Chaung followed the deaths of three protesters who were shot at rallies on a day when many shops, factories and banks closed as part of a general strike to protest against the coup.
Online television broadcaster Kamaryut Media said its office was raided Tuesday and two staff members were taken away by plainclothes officers while military vehicles waited outside.
The office of a second media outlet Mizzima was also targeted Tuesday, the day after it had its publishing licence revoked.
“About ten vehicles with soldiers and police came,” a Mizzima journalist told AFP, adding the office had been closed since the coup.
Security forces also raided the office of Myanmar Now in Yangon on Monday and later revoked its publishing licence along with DVB, Khit Thit and 7 Day, following an information ministry order, state broadcaster MRTV said.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the ongoing media crackdown and characterised the raids as “a shocking act of intimidation”.
MRTV also provided an ominous update on the case of detained Australian economist Sean Turnell, an advisor to Suu Kyi, who was arrested a week after the putsch.
It alleged he was discovered with “secretive state economic data” and tried to “escape” Myanmar.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne earlier this week called for Turnell’s immediate release noting he had been detained with limited consular access for more than 30 days.
The military has denied responsibility for loss of life in the protests and defended seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
Nearly 140 NGOs from 31 countries signed an open letter Wednesday calling for the United Nations Security Council to urgently impose an arms embargo on Myanmar after the military coup there earlier this month.
“The United Nations Security Council should urgently impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar in response to the military coup and to deter the junta from committing further abuses,” the letter said.
It went on to say, “Governments that permit arms transfers to Myanmar — including China, India, Israel, North Korea, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine — should immediately stop the supply of any weapons, munitions, and related equipment.”
Three of the named countries are currently members of the Security Council: permanent members China and Russia — who both hold veto power in the body — and non-permanent member India.
“Given the mass atrocities against the Rohingya, decades of war crimes, and the overthrow of the elected government, the least the UN Security Council can do is impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) director Kenneth Roth wrote.
“The Security Council should also impose targeted sanctions, global travel bans, and asset freezes on the leadership of the junta and military-owned conglomerates,” said the signatories, which also included dozens of Asian NGOs.
Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters returned to the streets in force on Wednesday, staging the biggest demonstrations since troops fanned out around the country to quell opposition to the new military junta.
Much of the country has been in open revolt since the military deposed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government at the start of the month and charged her under an obscure import law.
Tens of thousands rallied in Yangon, some blockading roads with vehicles to stop security forces from moving around the nation’s biggest city.
Police and soldiers were spotted near a key protest junction but appeared to be hanging back, looking on as demonstrators streamed past.
“We have to fight until the end,” Nilar, a 21-year-old student who asked not to use her real name, told AFP.
“We need to show our unity and strength to end military rule. People need to come out on the streets.”
Wednesday’s crowds came in defiance of violent efforts by the regime to bring resistance to heel — including use of tear gas and rubber bullets — following nationwide street protests and a disobedience campaign encouraging civil servants to strike.
Demonstrations over the past two days had been noticeably smaller since troops were deployed around Yangon at the weekend.
But social media platforms had been flooded with calls for a show of force by protesters in the hours before the junta imposed a third consecutive overnight internet blackout.
By noon, there were anti-coup demonstrations across Myanmar, from the remote highland region of Chin state to a small town in the Irrawaddy delta where parading protesters hoisted Suu Kyi posters.
Right outside the administrative capital Naypyidaw, tens of thousands of people from different sectors — including engineers, doctors and teachers — marched through the logging town of Pyinmana carrying signs saying “Help Myanmar”.
UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews warned that soldiers going into Yangon, as had been reported, could lead to the situation there spiralling out of control.
“We could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar,” he said.
One young woman remained in a critical condition in Naypyidaw after being shot in the head last week.
Scores of well-wishers gathered Wednesday at the site where she was shot to hold a prayer session, carrying posters of her.
The military said a police officer had died in Mandalay after a confrontation with protesters on Sunday, adding in a statement: “Those who committed lawless action on the police officer will be dealt with as necessary.”
– New charge for Suu Kyi – The military justified its power seizure by alleging widespread voter fraud in November elections won by Suu Kyi’s party in a landslide.
After her detention in a dawn raid on February 1, Suu Kyi was charged with possessing unregistered walkie-talkies found in her home.
Her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told AFP on Tuesday she was also charged with violating the country’s disaster management law. Further details of that charge have not been made public.
The disaster management law has also been used against deposed president Win Myint for an election campaign event that the junta claims broke coronavirus restrictions.
Her lawyer added that Suu Kyi and Win Myint, both of whom he has yet to have any contact with, were expected to appear via video link during a March 1 trial.
– ‘Not what China wants to see’ – More than 450 people have been arrested since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
Western powers and the United Nations have repeatedly condemned the leaders of Myanmar’s new military administration, which insists it took power lawfully.
China had initially not criticised the coup, which Chinese state media described as a “cabinet reshuffle”.
However, Beijing’s ambassador to Myanmar said Tuesday that the current situation in the country was “absolutely not what China wants to see”.
Myanmar’s junta deployed extra troops around the country and choked the internet for the second night in a row as it intensified a crackdown on anti-coup protests, but defiant demonstrators again took to the streets on Monday.
The military has steadily escalated efforts to quell an uprising against their seizure of power two weeks ago, which saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained along with hundreds of others, including members of her democratically elected government.
Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are expected to be questioned by a court “via video conferencing” in the country’s capital of Naypyidaw this week, said lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, adding that he had not been able to make contact with either client.
Neither has been seen in public since they were detained in dawn raids on February 1, the day of the coup.
The generals imposed an hours-long internet shutdown Monday morning and ratcheted up the military’s presence across the country overnight, including armoured vehicles in Yangon, the nation’s commercial hub and biggest city.
On Tuesday, another internet blackout blanketed Myanmar, dropping connectivity to 15 percent of ordinary levels, according to UK-based monitoring group NetBlocks.
“#Myanmar is in the midst of a near-total internet shutdown for a second consecutive night” as of 1 am local time (1830 GMT), NetBlocks tweeted early Tuesday morning.
The shutdown comes after a day of protesters taking to the streets in defiance of heavy troop presence around Yangon — although turnout was smaller than in recent days.
The United Nations denounced the choking of the internet.
The UN envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, spoke with the deputy commander of the Myanmar army, Soe Win, and warned that “network blackouts undermine core democratic principles,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.
The envoy noted that such shutdowns “hurt key sectors, including banking, and heighten domestic tensions. And, so, we’ve made our concerns about this very clear,” said Haq.
“Patrolling with armoured vehicles means they are threatening people,” said 46-year-old Nyein Moe, among the more than 1,000 gathered Monday in front of the Central Bank, staring down armoured vehicles parked there.
“We can’t stop now.”
By afternoon, news of a strong police presence at the city’s headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party drew thousands to the scene.
They chanted “End military dictatorship” as the officers stood guard.
“About seven police officers searched for about 30 minutes (for two MPs),” NLD member Soe Win told AFP after the security forces left without finding them. “Now everything is settled.”
Across the country, people continued to take to the streets Monday to call for the release of Suu Kyi — with some incidents of violence.
A demonstration led by student groups in Naypyidaw was met with force after the gathering had retreated. Police also arrested dozens of the young protesters, though some were later released.
Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, saw a clash which left at least six injured after police used slingshots against protesters and fired rubber bullets into the crowd.
Demonstrators retaliated by throwing bricks, said a rescue team member who assisted with the injured.
“One of them needed oxygen because he was hit with a rubber bullet in his rib,” rescue team head Khin Maung Tin told AFP.
Journalists on the scene also said police had beaten them in the melee.
– ‘State-ordered information blackout’ – NetBlocks reported Monday that a “state-ordered information blackout” had taken Myanmar almost entirely offline for around eight hours, before connectivity was restored at the start of the working day.
Tuesday’s internet blackout would be the fourth since February 1, when the military staged a putsch and detained Suu Kyi, ending a decade-old fledgling democracy after generations of junta rule.
But cutting out internet connectivity — and a step up in arrests — has done little to quell resistance that has seen huge crowds throng big urban centres and isolated frontier villages alike.
The anti-coup movement has continued apace despite intensifying fears of a harsher crackdown, like on Sunday night when troops in the northern city of Myitkyina fired tear gas and then shot into a crowd of protesters.
So far, more than 420 people — including striking workers — have been detained since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
– Declaration of war – A joint statement from the US, British and European Union ambassadors urged security forces not to harm civilians.
By late Monday night, the UK embassy in Myanmar took a harsher line, admonishing the regime for its attack on journalists and for imposing another internet blackout.
“The assault on freedom of expression must stop,” it tweeted.
UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews said the junta’s efforts to rein in the burgeoning protest movement was a sign of “desperation” and amounted to a declaration of war against its people.
“Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable,” he tweeted.
The country’s new military leadership has so far been unmoved by a torrent of international condemnation.
On Monday coup leader Min Aung Hlaing said “except the West”, other members of the international community say Myanmar’s affairs are “its internal matter”, echoing China and Russia.
Myanmar’s ruling general signalled waning patience Thursday with nationwide protests over the military’s takeover, ordering demonstrators to return to work or face “effective actions”.
His warning comes after a sixth consecutive day of anti-coup rallies condemning the ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and follows US President Joe Biden announcing sanctions against the generals on Wednesday.
While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, security forces earlier this week used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets, with isolated reports of live rounds being fired.
By Thursday evening, army chief General Min Aung Hlaing — who now holds legislative, judicial and executive powers — called for civil servants to return to work after days of nationwide strikes supporting the protests.
“Due to unscrupulous persons’ incitement, some civil service personnel have failed to perform their duties,” he said in a statement.
“Effective actions will be taken.”
Since the February 1 coup, there has been an outpouring of anger and defiance, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detained senior figures of her National League for Democracy party.
Demonstrators again marched peacefully on Thursday in Naypyidaw — the capital and military stronghold — as well as Yangon, the largest city and commercial hub, which saw tens of thousands flood into the streets.
“Don’t go to the office,” chanted a group of protesters outside Myanmar’s central bank in Yangon, part of the effort urging people to boycott work and put pressure on the junta.
“We aren’t doing this for a week or a month — we are determined to do this until the end when (Suu Kyi) and President U Win Myint are released,” one protesting bank employee told AFP.
Joining the protest were dozens from the ethnic Karen, Rakhine and Kachin communities — drawn from Myanmar’s roughly 130 ethnic groups, some of who have faced intense persecution from the army.
“Our ethnic armed groups and ethnic people have to join together to fight against the military dictatorship,” Saw Z Net, an ethnic Karen protester, told AFP.
In Shan state demonstrators in traditional costumes took their anti-coup message to the water on Lake Inle, with similar scenes unfolding in the ancient UNESCO heritage city of Bagan as hundreds marched between temples and pagodas.
– US sanctions – Western nations have repeatedly denounced the coup, with the United States leading calls for the generals to relinquish power.
In the most significant concrete action, Biden announced Wednesday that his administration was cutting off the generals’ access to $1 billion in funds in the United States.
“I again call on the Burmese military to immediately release democratic political leaders and activists,” Biden said, as he flagged further sanctions.
“The military must relinquish power.”
On Thursday, former colonial power Britain welcomed Biden’s steps, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab tweeting that “we will hold those responsible to account”.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has also warned the bloc could impose fresh sanctions on Myanmar’s military.
– Crackdown deepens – There were more reports of arrests Thursday, including the deputy speaker of the parliament’s lower house and a key aide to Suu Kyi.
The number of coup-linked detentions is now more than 200, according to monitor Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The NLD — whose Yangon headquarters saw a raid this week — also confirmed the arrest of election officials in the afternoon.
The military justified last week’s power grab by claiming widespread voter fraud in November’s polls, which saw a landslide for Suu Kyi’s party.
It quickly moved to stack courts and political offices with loyalists as it ended a decade of civilian rule.
Fears are growing over how long the junta will tolerate the protests.
Live rounds were fired at a rally in Naypyidaw this week, critically wounding two people — including a woman who was shot in the head.
Images depicting the woman have been shared widely online alongside expressions of grief and fury.
The military’s clampdown on information using internet blackouts — with tech companies ordered to cut communications intermittently — has drawn widespread condemnation.
Concern grew Thursday that the junta was planning to impose a much harsher and sustained internet crackdown, including enacting a draft cybersecurity bill that would allow the military to order blackouts and website bans.
A coalition of the world’s largest internet companies — including Facebook, Google, and Twitter — denounced the draft law Thursday, calling it “a regressive step” to the past.
“We urge the military leaders to consider the potentially devastating consequences of these proposed laws on Myanmar’s people and economy,” said Asia Internet Coalition’s managing director Jeff Paine.