YANGON, Myanmar, 3 March 2021
At least 33 protesters were killed by Myanmar security forces on Wednesday, the highest number since a 1 February military coup, according to a compilation of local reports, as authorities extended their lethal crackdown.
The data, mostly from local media and Facebook postings, was compiled by a data professional in Yangon, the country’s largest city. In many cases it includes the victims’ names, ages, hometowns and where and how they were killed. The deaths included a 14-year-old boy.
The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm most of the reported deaths, but a sampling of online postings matched what is included in the compilation. The person who compiled the information asked to remain anonymous because of fears of reprisals from the military government. He said 18 people were killed Wednesday in Yangon.
The previous highest total was on Sunday, when the UN Human Rights Office reported 18 dead nationwide, although other counts put it higher.
Videos from various locations showed security forces on Wednesday firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew.
Demonstrators have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military seized power and ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Their numbers have remained high even as security forces have repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds, and arrested protesters en masse.
The intensifying standoff is unfortunately familiar in the country with a long history of peaceful resistance to military rule — and brutal crackdowns. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.
Security forces have also arrested hundreds of people at protests, including journalists. On Saturday, at least eight journalists, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press, were detained. A video shows he had moved out of the way as police charged down a street at protesters, but then was seized by police officers, who handcuffed him and held him briefly in a chokehold before marching him away.
He has been charged with violating a public safety law that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.
The escalation of the crackdown has led to increased diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar’s political crisis — but there appear to be few viable options.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold a closed meeting on the situation on Friday, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized the give the information before the official announcement. The United Kingdom requested the meeting, they said.
Still, any kind of coordinated action at the United Nations will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it. Some countries have imposed or are considering imposing their own sanctions.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, held a teleconference meeting of foreign ministers on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.
But there, too, action is unlikely. The regional group of 10 nations has a tradition of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. A statement by the chair after the meeting merely called for an end to violence and for talks on how to reach a peaceful settlement.
Ignoring that appeal, Myanmar’s security forces on Wednesday continued to attack peaceful protesters.
Details of the crackdowns and casualties are difficult to independently confirm, especially those occurring outside the bigger cities. But the accounts of most assaults have been consistent in social media and from local news outlets, and usually have videos and photos supporting them. It is also likely that many attacks in remote areas go unreported.
In Yangon, a widely circulated video taken from a security camera showed police in the city brutally beating members of an ambulance crew — apparently after they were arrested. Police can be seen kicking the three crew members and thrashing them with rifle butts.
Security forces are believed to single out medical workers for arrest and mistreatment because members of the medical profession launched the country’s civil disobedience movement to resist the junta.
The data compiler said the second highest death total was in the central city of Monywa, which has turned out huge crowds, with eight dead reported.
Two deaths were reported in Salin, a town in Magwe region on the western bank of the Irrawaddy river, and in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city.
Mawlamyine, in the southeast, and Myingyan and Kalay, both in central Myanmar, all reported one death.
In Mandalay, photos posted on social media showed a university student peacefully taking part in a protest, and later showed her apparently lifeless with a head wound. Accounts on social media said a man was also killed.
Riot police in the city, backed by soldiers, broke up a rally and chased around 1,000 teachers and students from a street with tear gas as gun shots could be heard.
Video from The Associated Press showed a squad of police firing slingshots in the apparent direction of demonstrators as they dispersed.