FILE PHOTO: Protesters run during a crackdown on anti-coup protests at Hlaing Township in Yangon, Myanmar March 17, 2021…
FILE - Protesters run during a crackdown on anti-coup protests at Hlaing Township in Yangon, Myanmar, March 17, 2021.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the continuing brutality of the Myanmar military, as at least eight anti-coup demonstrators were killed Friday 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 a firm, unified international response was 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.

Resistance continues

“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.”

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, March 19, 2021.

Kirkwood briefed reporters via videoconference 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.

“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 was very concerned that a humanitarian crisis could be developing. The United Nations was already providing assistance to 1 million people before the coup. Now, food prices have risen as much as 20% in some areas in the past month and a banking crisis has caused supply chain disruptions.

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

Anti-coup protesters and residents monitor police and military occupying a roadblock in Yangon, Myanmar, March 19, 2021.

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.

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