The three-week crackdown against opponents of Myanmar’s military coup intensified Saturday as security forces seemed more aggressive while deploying early to suppress protests in cities and towns across the country.
Security forces appeared to have used more plainclothes officers than before as they fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons at protesters. AFP reported police used live rounds isolated cases.
Unconfirmed media reports said a woman was fatally shot in the central town of Monwya and that dozens were arrested. There was no immediate comment from police or other government authorities.
Security forces arrested protesters in Myanmar's two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, where they have demonstrated in the streets daily since the coup.
The country’s crisis was complicated further Friday when Myanmar’s U.N. envoy, Kyaw Moe Tun, appealed to a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to reject the military coup and “use any means necessary” to protect the people.
On Saturday, Myanmar state television reported Kyaw Moe Tun had been fired, saying he “betrayed the country.”
Kyaw Moe Tun is a member of the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluuttaw, which represents the elected members of parliament from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
Popular protests have been staged across Myanmar daily since the military detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the civilian government February 1, claiming widespread fraud in last November’s election, which Suu Kyi’s NLD won in a landslide.
The envoy said he represents the NLD, which is “the legitimate and duly elected” government – not the military leaders who seized power. He said the coup was illegal, unconstitutional and “not acceptable in this modern world.”
“It is crystal clear that we all do not want to go back to the system that we used to be in before,” Kyaw Moe Tun said of the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets across Myanmar since the coup.
The envoy accused the military of oppressing the people for decades, using “unspeakable, violent methods” to attack ethnic minorities, and that “these actions no doubt amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Kyaw Moe Tun said the military continues to act with impunity as it deploys violence against the peaceful protesters demanding a return to civilian rule and democratic norms.
“The Myanmar military overthrows a democratically elected government, shoots to kill the peaceful protesters on the street, commits crimes targeting civilians, attacks ambulances and health care workers, arrests the democratically elected parliamentarians using unjust laws, issues arrest warrants without legal basis and breaches the fundamental human rights of the people of Myanmar,” Kyaw Moe Tun said.
"The Myanmar military has become the existential threat for Myanmar,” he said.
He appealed to the international community to continue to pressure the regime, not to recognize it or cooperate with it in any way, and to support the democratically elected lawmakers.
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” Kyaw Moe Tun said, his voice cracking. He then spoke briefly in his native Burmese to address his fellow citizens listening in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.
“I would like to request to all of you to keep on fighting,” he urged his countrymen, according to a translation of his remarks. “The revolution must succeed.”
US condemns coup, praises envoy
Speaking at her first U.N. meeting, the new U.S. ambassador condemned the coup and praised the Myanmar envoy’s “courageous and brave statement.”
"Like the permanent representative [Kyaw Moe Tun], the people of Myanmar are making their voices heard,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. “Doctors and civil servants, grocery store cashiers and milk tea servers, delivery drivers, oil rig operators and artists — they are marching in the streets. They are raising red balloons, and banging pots and pans, and they are demanding their democracy back.”
She said the United States stands in solidarity with demonstrators as they call for a return to peace and democratic governance.
“The military has tried to silence those calls with social media and internet blackouts, but we still hear the people of Myanmar loud and clear,” she added.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power also praised Myanmar’s envoy in a tweet, noting “it is impossible to overstate the risks that #Myanmar UN ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun just took in the @UN General Assembly when (voice cracking) he just now called on world to oppose the military coup.”
Whoa. It is impossible to overstate the risks that #Myanmar UN ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun just took in the @UN General Assembly when (voice cracking) he just now called on world to oppose the military coup. See photo below of him giving the three-fingered salute of the protestors. https://t.co/qnmr0RMY0S— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) February 26, 2021
Britain’s ambassador to the U.N. also commended the Myanmar envoy’s “courageous and powerful statement” in a tweet.
I applaud my colleague Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun today on his courageous and powerful statement to the @UN General Assembly today.— Ambassador Barbara Woodward (@BWoodward_UN) February 26, 2021
We stand with the people of #Myanmar against the military coup. pic.twitter.com/5H7KZfhuGE
U.N. Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener briefed the General Assembly on the situation. She said she was “ringing the alarm bells,” condemned the military’s actions and said they must be reversed.
"Despite attempts by the military and its appointed officials to justify its ongoing violations, including the killing of peaceful protesters and the continued detention of political leaders, civil servants and others, let us be clear there can be no 'business as usual' under the current circumstances,” she said.
Schraner Burgener said she had spoken with the military commanders and had been trying to get clearance to visit the country to assess the situation.
“Regrettably, the current regime has so far asked me to postpone any visit,” she said. “It seems they want to continue making large-scale arrests and have been coercing people to testify against the NLD government. This is cruel and inhumane.”
Meanwhile, in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, police and security forces fired rubber bullets at ethnic Mon demonstrators gathered to commemorate Mon National Day Saturday at a popular protest site in the city, where protesters and police clashed Friday.
Hundreds of Mon were joined by members of other minority ethnic groups protesting the February 1 military coup.
Police arrested at least 15 people there, among those three journalists - an Associated Press photographer, a video journalist from Myanmar Now, a news agency, and a photographer from the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency.
A Japanese journalist was detained at a protest in Yangon Friday but was later released.
Police also moved in Saturday to disperse anti-coup protesters gathered in the second city of Mandalay and several other cities and towns, including Dawei in the south.
Tens of thousands of protesters had been marching through Dawei almost every day since the coup, unchallenged by security forces, but on Saturday police used tear gas against them.
The junta has declared a one-year state of emergency. Its commander, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has pledged that new elections will be held to bring about a "true and disciplined democracy,” but did not specify when they would take place.
Myanmar’s electoral commission denied the military’s claims of election fraud.
The United States and other Western nations have demanded the release of Suu Kyi and her lieutenants, who have been detained since the coup, and called on the junta to restore power to the civilian government.