Witnesses describe violence at Myanmar coup protests


Witnesses have described how Myanmar’s security forces opened fire on protesters and killed a young man and a teenage boy, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets again on Sunday (Feb. 21) in defiance of the military junta.

The two victims were believed to have been killed when police and frontline troops used live ammunition to disperse protesters opposing the coup in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city, on Saturday (Feb. 20).

The use of deadly force against demonstrators was condemned by the UN, France, Singapore and Britain.

The US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions since the coup, with a focus on military leaders.

A 23-year-old protester, who asked to be known by the pseudonym Hla, said she saw a middle-aged man who had been shot in the stomach and knees.

“The bullet went right through and I could see his ligaments,” she said, adding that the brutality of the crackdown, even after the crowd followed police instructions, was traumatising. Security forces also shot at ambulances as the injured were being carried away by medical volunteers, Hla said.

“There was so much blood,” she said. “When people raised their hands to plead with the police to stop shooting at ambulances, it didn’t work. I felt like I had to run for my life.” Blood and fragments of skull marked the spot where the young man was killed, she said.

In a separate incident on Saturday, a 30-year-old man was killed in Yangon while patrolling the neighbourhood as part of a community initiative to guard against night-time raids by police.

For the past week, the military junta has imposed an internet shutdown every night across the country. The internet blackout has intensified activists’ fears that they will be seized by the authorities during night-time raids. Many campaigners, journalists and striking civil servants have gone into hiding.

Meanwhile, Facebook announced that it had deleted the military’s main page. The social media giant, which is widely used in Myanmar, said the army had breached its standards on prohibiting the incitement of violence.

“In line with our global policies, we’ve removed the Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page from Facebook for repeated violations of our community standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm,” Facebook said.

At least 30 people were injured in the crackdown in Mandalay. Some of the demonstrators had fired slingshots at police, who responded with teargas and gunfire, witnesses told Reuters.

Police in Mandalay were supported by soldiers from the 33rd Light Infantry Division. The unit was involved in brutal atrocities committed against the Rohingya in 2017 – a crackdown that has since led to a genocide case in The Hague.

In a broadcast on state-run MRTV, the military junta issued a warning ahead of what are expected to be even bigger mass protests on Monday.

“It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” a statement from the State Administration Council’s Information Team said.

Also on Sunday, a funeral was held for a woman who died last week, aged 20, after she was shot in the head by police at a protest in the capital, Naypyitaw. It is believed she is the first casualty of the protest against the ruling junta. (Source: The Guardian)