At least 18 people were killed when security forces fired on protesters in cities across Myanmar on Sunday, the bloodiest day in a month of mass demonstrations against the military’s ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Capping a weekend of escalating violence against opponents of the Feb. 1 coup, police in riot gear and uniformed soldiers shot flash-bang and stun grenades and fired live and rubber bullets at protesters, causing fatalities in at least six major cities, including Yangon and Mandalay.
The U.N. Human Rights Office said it had received “credible information” that at least 18 people were killed and more 30 were wounded, in the highest single-day death toll since the military takeover brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into streets across the country of 54 million people.
“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protestors,” the rights office said in a statement.
The casualties occurred when “police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force,” the UN statement said.
Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Mandalay, Dawei and Myeik in the southeastern Tanintharyi region, the central regional capital, Bago and Pakokku in the western Magway region, it said.
RFA’s Burmese Service was able to confirm through witnesses and demonstrators 15 protester deaths — four in Yangon, three in Mandalay, four in Dawei, two protesters in Bago, and one each on Mawlamyine, the Mon State capital, and Pakokku.
‘Like a battlefield’
“Myanmar is like a battlefield,” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, said on social media.
“The police are arresting, beating and even shooting at the people,” he said.
An activist group called Gen Z Revolt 2021 tweeted that 26 protesters had been killed Sunday, including seven in Myeik and one in Lashio, in northern Shan State.
According to the junta-controlled MRTV on Sunday evening, eight people were killed, with 571 people arrested nationwide. Including 322 in Yangon alone.
“We are heartbroken to see the loss of so many lives in Myanmar. People should not face violence for expressing dissent against the military coup,” the U.S. Embassy in Yangon said in a statement.
“Targeting of civilians is abhorrent,” the mission added.
The European Union condemned the violence and indicated sanctions may be forthcoming.
“This weekend, the Myanmar military has increased its brutal repression of peaceful protests across the country, leaving many protestors dead or wounded,” said EU High Representative Josep Borrell, in a statement that promised EU countermeasures “shortly.”
“In shooting … unarmed citizens, the security forces have shown a blatant disregard for international law, and must be held to account. Violence will not give legitimacy to the illegal over-throwing of the democratically-elected Government,” said Borrell.
In a rare comment by an ASEAN country on the internal affairs of a fellow member of the 10-nation group, Indonesia said it is “deeply concerned with the escalating violence in Myanmar that has resulted in casualties and the loss of lives.”
A statement by the foreign ministry of Southeast Asia’s largest country called on the military to “refrain from the use of force and exercise utmost restraint to avoid further casualties and prevent the situation from deteriorating.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the world must insist on accountability for the deaths, any illegal use of live ammunition by Myanmar security forces, and the violation of basic rights from the deepening crackdown.
“The Myanmar security forces’ clear escalation in use of lethal force in multiple towns and cities across the country in response to mostly peaceful anti-coup protesters is outrageous and unacceptable, and must be immediately halted,” he said in a statement.
“Security forces are also engaged in a widening pattern of arrests, detaining scores with each passing hour,” added Robertson.
Among those arrested as police and soldiers started using more aggressive tactics against protesters Saturday were 13 journalists detained while covering protests.
Eight journalists and photojournalists were picked up Saturday, including Associated Press correspondent Thein Zaw, who remained in custody after two of the eight were released. Another five local journalists were detained in several cities on Sunday, RFA has learned.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group, said that as of Sunday, 1,132 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the military coup, with 883 still being held or facing outstanding charges. It counted approximately 30 deaths since the coup.
Before the weekend shooting deaths, RFA had verified eight deaths since the Feb. 1 coup, including three protesters shot by riot police and one demonstrator death in custody.
Myanmar state television announced on Saturday that U.N. envoy from the deposed civilian government who made an impassioned appeal a day earlier for the world body to “use any means necessary to take action” to restore democracy had been fired for betraying the country.
“In addition to the existing support, we need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people, and to restore the democracy,” Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.
Tens of thousands of civil servants across Myanmar who have joined the three-week-old anti-coup civil disobedience movement face increasing pressure from employers who are threatening to fire and sue them for going on strike to support the protests.
More than 24,000 employees from 24 government ministries are taking part in the strikes, according to data collected by groups participating in the movement. The strikes have brought nearly all public health services, education, and railway transportation to a halt.
Myanmar anti-coup protesters and the Milk Tea Alliance” of pro-democracy activists in Thailand, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia and India condemned the shooting deaths.
“We cannot see our people die anymore. Our hearts are so painful right now. We are now afraid of tomorrow, fearing more lives will be lost.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.