More than 100 people were killed Saturday in Myanmar as the military junta backed by police continued a brutal, countrywide crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on Armed Forces Day, marking the deadliest day of protests since the February 1 military coup.
The Myanmar Now news site reported late Saturday a nationwide death toll of at least 114, with at least 29 people killed in the northern city of Mandalay, including a boy as young as 5 years old. The Associated Press cited a Yangon-based independent researcher who put the death-toll at 107 — both numbers exceeding a previously reported high of 90 killings on March 14.
According to news wires, security forces also killed civilians in the central Sagaing region, the eastern town of Lashio, the south-central region of Bago, near Yangon, and in other parts of the country.
“They are killing us like birds or chickens, even in our homes,” said Thu Ya Zaw, a resident of the central town of Myingyan, where at least two protesters were reportedly killed. “We will keep protesting regardless. We must fight until the junta falls.”
The military government further escalated the use of deadly force Saturday with fighter jets launching airstrikes in an area near the Thai border controlled by an armed ethnic group dedicated to overturning the coup, according to Reuters.
The group, the Karen National Union, reportedly said the jets attacked Day Pu Noe village about 8 p.m. local time (3:30 UTC), killing two people and forcing residents to take refuge elsewhere.
The KNU said earlier Saturday it killed 10 soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, as it overran an army base.
In a show of force, the military regime held a massive parade in the capital, Naypyidaw, to mark Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II.
As troops marched alongside army vehicles, junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing defended the coup again and pledged to relinquish power after new elections, without specifying any date. Min Aung Hlaing seized power in a February 1 coup.
Myanmar's military government has not responded to requests for comment on the civilian killings or on reports of the KNU’s killing of soldiers at an army base.
Junta leaders have justified the coup by saying the November 8 general election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party was fraudulent — an accusation the electoral commission rejected. Ongoing protests have spread nationwide since the coup, often followed by a heavy-handed security crackdown against protesters.
Myanmar’s military government had warned protesters they could risk being shot in the head during anti-coup demonstrations Saturday as the country observed Armed Forces Day, according to state media.
The junta’s warning came one day after nine people were killed in Myanmar, according to the daily report of the activist group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
In reaction to Saturday’s reported killings, the spokesperson for the secretary-general of the United Nations said in a statement that Antonio Guterres “condemns in the strongest terms the killing of dozens of civilians, including children and young people, by security forces in Myanmar” and urged the military to refrain from violence and repression.
The U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, Thomas Vajda, released a strongly worded statement, asserting that the country’s security forces are “murdering unarmed civilians, including children, the very people they swore to protect.”
“This bloodshed is horrifying,” Vajda added. “We call for an immediate end to the violence and the restoration of the democratically elected government.”
The 27-nation European Union said in a statement the killings will be recorded in the annals of the history of the Southeast Asian country.
“This 76th Myanmar Armed Forces Day will forever stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonor,” the statement said. “The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts.”
The EU also called for an immediate end to the violence and “the restoration of democracy.”
Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar, Dan Chugg, said security forces “have disgraced themselves by shooting unarmed civilians.”
“At a time of economic crisis, COVID, and a worsening humanitarian situation, today’s military parade and extra-judicial killings speak volumes for the priorities of the military junta, Chugg added.”
Before Saturday, military forces had killed at least 328 people during the crackdown and more than 2,900 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced since the crackdown began, the AAPP said in a report.
The United States and Britain imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s ruling junta on Thursday, blacklisting military-controlled businesses.
“Today the United States is taking its most significant action to date to impose costs on the military regime,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a statement Thursday.
The United States has designated two entities linked to the coup leaders, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited (MEC). “MEHL and MEC are the two largest military holding companies in Burma, and all shares in them are held and managed by current or former Burmese military officers, regiments, and units, and organizations led by former service members,” the statement said.