Force used against anti-coup protesters in Myanmar as military junta persists

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Security forces in Myanmar have again used force to disperse anti-coup protesters. It comes a day after a UN special envoy urged the Security Council to take action to quell junta violence that’s left more than 50 peaceful demonstrators dead in the past week and scores injured.

Protests were reported on the morning of Saturday 6 March in the country’s biggest city, Yangon. Forces used stun grenades and tear gas against demonstrators. On Wednesday 3 March, 18 people were reportedly killed there.

Protests also took place in several other cities. They include Mandalay, the second-biggest city, Myitkyina, the capital of the northern state of Kachin, Myeik in the far south and Dawei in the south-east. In Myeik, police fired tear gas at students; tear gas was also used in Dawei.

Kyal Sin

Officials are believed to have exhumed the body of a young woman who was killed during Wednesday’s suppression of protests in Mandalay. The woman, Kyal Sin, had been photographed taking part in the protests before her death. And images of her on the front lines have made her a high-profile martyr.

Myanmar protesters
Monks take part in an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar (AP)

At night on Friday 5 March security forces sealed off the cemetery where she was buried. When residents visited in the morning, her grave was freshly plastered over. Shovels and other evidence of digging were found at the site.

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There was no official explanation of the incident. But media close to the military had earlier reported the authorities had questioned the conclusion that she’d been shot dead by police, and intended to investigate.

The escalating violence has put pressure on the world community to act to restrain the junta, which seized power on 1 February. It did so ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Democracy

The coup reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in Myanmar. For five decades, the country had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party led a return to civilian rule with a landslide election victory in 2015. And it won with an even greater margin of votes in 2020.

It would have been installed for a second five-year term in February. But instead Suu Kyi and president Win Myint, and other members of the government, were placed in military detention.

Large protests have occurred daily across many cities and towns. And security forces have responded with greater use of lethal force and mass arrests.

At least 18 protesters were shot and killed last Sunday 28 February, and 38 on Wednesday 3 March. This is according to the UN Human Rights Office. More than 1,000 have been arrested, the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

UN Security Council

UN special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener gave a briefing on Friday to a closed Security Council meeting. In it, she said that council unity and “robust” action are critical “in pushing for a stop to the violence and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic institutions”.

She added:

We must denounce the actions by the military. It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results.

She reiterated an earlier appeal to the international community not to “lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime that has been forcefully imposed, and nothing but chaos has since followed”.

Myanmar protesters
A protester holds a makeshift shield with photos denouncing coup leader Min Aung Hlaing (AP)

The Security Council took no immediate action. Council diplomats said Britain circulated a draft presidential statement for consideration. This is a step below a legally binding resolution.

However, any kind of co-ordinated action at the UN will be difficult. This is because two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, are likely to veto it.

Undeterred

Earlier in the week, Schraner Burgener warned Myanmar’s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge, strong measures”.

She said:

And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived those sanctions in the past.’

When she warned that Myanmar would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’

A decree issued by the junta was published in state media on Friday. It increased the potential costs of opposition. The decree warned that members of a self-styled alternative government, formed by elected politicians whom the army barred from taking their seats, were committing high treason, which is punishable by death.

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