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Myanmar Junta Continues Brutal Crackdown on Protesters

FILE - Tear gas and fire extinguisher gas surround demonstrators as they run away from police during a protest against the military coup in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 8, 2021.

It has been more than five weeks since Myanmar’s military took full control of the Southeast Asia nation, removing the democratically elected government, in a move that has sparked nationwide anti-coup protests.

Tens of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets in demonstrations that have included widespread strikes from the professional class aiming to stifle the rule of the junta government, officially the State Administrative Council (SAC).

But despite street rallies that have become a daily occurrence, the military has ramped up efforts to silence demonstrators by aggressively responding with live ammunition to quell protests. Dozens have died, including members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Khin Maung Latt, a politician of the Rakhine constituency, died in police custody after overnight raids in Yangon on Saturday, a party official confirmed to VOA’s Burmese service. Khin Maung Latt had actively campaigned for NLD candidates in both the 2015 and 2020 Myanmar general elections.

Local media reported Khin Maung Latt’s family were informed he died after “fainting.” But before he was arrested, he was beaten in his home, according to witnesses.

Tun Kyi, spokesperson of the Association Assistance for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB), told VOA Burmese he accompanied the bereaved family to claim Khin Maung Latt’s body and witnessed blood on his head, his fingers blackened, and wounds on his back. It is widely thought he was beaten and tortured to death by the authorities, though there has been no confirmation of such treatment. His funeral took place on Sunday. He was 58 years old. Police have not commented on the case.

Sithu Maung, one of two Muslim lawmakers elected in Myanmar’s last elections, told VOA Burmese that Khin Maung Latt was “my uncle, a friend and comrade” and that he was "very saddened by his death."

“He was my campaign manager and also an activist. With his death, there was nothing legal about the whole process. If they want to arrest someone, they must have (a) warrant first,” he later told VOA.

The international rights group Human Rights Watch has called for the military junta to investigate the death of the Burmese politician, and to look into those who have “disappeared.”

Anti-coup demonstrators sprays fire extinguishers over a barricade during a protests in Yangon, Myanmar, March 9, 2021.
Anti-coup demonstrators sprays fire extinguishers over a barricade during a protests in Yangon, Myanmar, March 9, 2021.

“Myanmar’s junta runs the security forces and can quickly find out who killed Khin Maung Latt if they want to. If they want to show they believe in the rule of law, all those responsible should be held account," Brian Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch said.

In response to the coup last month, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) was formed, representing the elected lawmakers of the ousted NLD party. After refusing to recognize the military, they have since notified diplomats and international parliaments they should liaise with the committee on government matters.

Arkar Myo Htet admitted as the brutal crackdown continues in Myanmar, like many other NLD members, he could be next.

“I stay hiding already. I have to move every three days. Over 100 NLD MP’s are already in jail,” he said.

But despite the risk he faces, he believes the people of Myanmar are not afraid to protest the military, unlike previous revolutions.

“When they threat in 1988 and 2007, the people did not have, did not feel the freedom. After five years of NLD government, people feel what the meaning is of democracy, why we need democracy,” he added.

But the military has stepped up their efforts to detain opposition members, legislator Sithu Maung added, saying that on Sunday evening his father had also been arrested.

"My father Peter (from) Hlaing Township, NLD party member has been arrested by soldiers and police,” part of his post on Facebook read.

He now waits anxiously on the fate of his father, just like many families who have had loved ones detained with little update on their condition. The AAPPB reported that 1,857 have been detained with 1,538 still in detention or have faced charges since the coup began.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by armed forces from 1962 until 2011 when democratic reforms led by Aung San Suu Kyi ended the military rule. In 2015, her NLD party won the country’s first open democratic election.

In the general elections in November 2020, the military-backed opposition lost heavily to Suu Kyi’s democracy party. The opposition contested the results, claiming there was widespread electoral fraud.

On February 1, the Myanmar military, also known as Tatmadaw, removed the NLD government.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained and additionally charged. The military announced a one-year-long state of emergency with commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing taking power. He later announced a “free and fair general election” would be held.

Zin Thu Aung contributed to this report.