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Myanmar Security Forces Again Crack Down on Protesters

Protesters are seen gathered by a barricade during a crackdown by security forces on demonstrations against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, March 20, 2021.

Myanmar Security forces cracked down again Saturday on anti-government protesters across the country in the face of mounting global criticism over their increasingly aggressive campaign to end the demonstrations triggered by the February 1 coup.

Protesters ran away as tear gas and live rounds were fired in northern Myanmar, according to international and local media reports.

Myanmar Now reported that one neighborhood night guard was fatally shot and two others critically injured in the central city of Mogok.

Demonstrations also continued across the former capital of Yangon.

On Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the continuing brutality of the Myanmar military, after at least eight anti-coup demonstrators were killed in the central town of Aungban in eastern Shan state.

“The killing of peaceful demonstrators and arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, is utterly unacceptable,” Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “The military continues to defy calls, including by the [U.N.] Security Council, to end violations of fundamental human rights and return to the path of democracy.”

He said that a firm, unified international response is urgently needed.

“The secretary-general will continue to stand with the people and their aspirations to achieve a peaceful, stable and prosperous Myanmar,” Dujarric added.

Protesters targeted with live ammunition, tear gas

“The army and the police have definitely increased the violence over the last couple of weeks in an attempt to get control of the situation, but the protests and the resistance continues,” U.N. Resident Coordinator for Myanmar Andrew Kirkwood said. “It is led by doctors and nurses and teachers and truck drivers and farmers who have all coalesced under this civil disobedience movement.”

Kirkwood briefed reporters via video conference from his home in Yangon, where it was evening, and he said the nightly symbolic banging of pots had just finished and the nationwide curfew had gone into effect.

Anti-coup protesters march in Sagaing, Sagaing region, Myanmar, March 20, 2021. (Credit: Citizen journalist via VOA's Burmese Service)
Anti-coup protesters march in Sagaing, Sagaing region, Myanmar, March 20, 2021. (Credit: Citizen journalist via VOA's Burmese Service)

“This is when often the military trucks start to roll by and the nightly raids begin,” he said, noting that even in the middle-class neighborhood where he lives, residents hear gunfire at night.

“It’s really at night that people start to live in fear,” he said. “People are dragged from their homes. Everybody knows somebody who has been arrested.”

He said the security forces have arrested at least 2,400 people for suspected participation in the anti-coup demonstrations since February 1.

“The vast majority of these people are held incommunicado still,” Kirkwood said. “We are hearing increasing reports of sexual-based violence against detainees.”

He said his office is very concerned that a humanitarian crisis could be developing. The United Nations was already providing assistance to one million people before the coup. Now, food prices have risen as much as 20% in some areas in the past month and an ongoing banking crisis has caused supply chain disruptions.

The health care sector is collapsing, and COVID-19 testing and treatment has stopped since the coup. Kirkwood said security forces have also occupied at least 36 hospitals and, in some cases, patients have been evicted.

People are also starting to become displaced. The junta imposed martial law on six townships in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub, effectively putting about 2 million people under their direct control. Kirkwood said tens of thousands of people have fled back to their villages in recent days.

“From the United Nations’ point of view, it is really important to emphasize that the situation could get worse and spin totally out of control,” he warned.

He said the people of Myanmar have high expectations for concerted international action. Some have even said they hope to see a U.N. peacekeeping mission come to the country.

Anti-coup protesters, monks among them, march in Sagaing, Sagaing region, Myanmar, March 20, 2021. (Credit: Citizen journalist via VOA's Burmese Service)
Anti-coup protesters, monks among them, march in Sagaing, Sagaing region, Myanmar, March 20, 2021. (Credit: Citizen journalist via VOA's Burmese Service)

More arrests

The Associated Press reports that authorities have arrested a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy, the party of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is herself in detention.

The military arrested two journalists Friday in the capital of Naypyidaw while they were covering a court hearing for a member of the NLD.

VOA’s Burmese Service has identified the detained journalists as Aung Thura of the BBC and Than Htike Aung, a former reporter for Yangon-based Mizzima News.

At least 50 journalists have been arrested since the coup began, and more than 20 have been released.

At least 20 others remain under arrest for inciting unrest, according to VOA’s Burmese Service.

The United States and other Western countries have condemned the coup and called for an end to the violence. They have also called for the release of Suu Kyi and other political detainees.

VOA’s Burmese Service and Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.