Myanmar military shuts down internet, rolls armoured tanks into major cities


Internet connection in Myanmar has been cut overnight on Sunday, hours after armoured vehicles rolled into several cities, in a major show of force by the military as the protest of the civilian population against February 01 coup continues to grow.

The military forces’ latest move prompts fears for the fate of protesters and warnings by diplomats that “the world is watching”.

The US embassy in Myanmar warned on Sunday evening of reported “military movements” in the country’s main city, Yangon, as well as Myitkyina and Sittwe, and said it expected interruptions to internet access.

Unverified video footage and photographs posted on social media also appeared to show military trucks carrying troops on the streets of Yangon.

The internet-monitoring service Netblocks reported that around 1.30am, national internet connectivity had fallen to 14% below ordinary levels. Contacts in Myanmar could not be reached by email or messaging apps.

The US embassy urged its citizens to “shelter in place” on Sunday evening local time after three armoured vehicles were sighted in the city and warned that there was a “possibility of telecommunications interruptions overnight between 1am and 9am” (6.30pm to 2.30am GMT).

A group of ambassadors in Myanmar, including the envoys from the EU, US, UK and Canada, put out a statement on Sunday night voicing their concerns about the shutdown and a spate of arrests of activists, civil servants and political leaders over the past week.

“We call on security forces to refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians, who are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government,” the statement said.

“We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity. The world is watching.”

Internet service was first blocked by the country’s telecommunication authorities last Saturday as the protest movement was taking shape, but it was restored after 24 hours.

The demonstrators, mostly young people, have used the internet to organise, document their protests and capture the police response, including firing rubber bullets at crowds and, in some instances, the use of live ammunition.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Myanmar’s largest cities for a ninth day of anti-coup demonstrations on Sunday.

The military rulers are also facing a strike by government workers, part of a civil disobedience campaign against the coup that deposed the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Many of the protesters nationwide held up images of Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s face. Her detention, on charges of importing walkie-talkies, is due to expire on Monday but her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, could not be reached for comment.

More than 384 people have been detained since the coup, the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, in a wave of mostly night-time arrests.

“While the international community is condemning the coup, Min Aung Hlaing is using every tool he has to instigate fears and instabilities,” activist Wai Hnin Pwint Thon from the UK-based rights group Burma Campaign UK said on Twitter, referring to the army chief.

Many protesters in Yangon carried signs calling for authorities to “stop kidnapping people at night”. (Source: The Guardian)