YANGON: Myanmar security forces dramatically escalated their crackdown on protests against last month’s coup, killing at least 33 protesters on Wednesday in several cities, according to accounts on social media and local news reports compiled by a data analyst.
That is the highest daily death toll since the Feb 1 takeover, exceeding the 18 that the UN Human Rights Office said were killed on Sunday, and could galvanise the international community, which has responded fitfully thus far to the violence.
Videos from Wednesday also showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew.
The toll could even be higher; the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news service, tallied 38 deaths. UN special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener also said 38 people had been killed.
Demonstrators have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military seized power and ousted the elected government of 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.
UN Security Council expected to hold closed-door meeting on the situation tomorrow
The intensifying stand-off 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 towards democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.
Wednesday’s death toll was compiled by a data analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety. He also collected information where he could on the victims’ names, ages, hometowns, and where and how they were killed. The data analyst, who is in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, said he collected the information to honour those who were killed for their heroic resistance.
According to his list, the highest number of deaths was in Yangon, where the total was 18. In the central city of Monywa, which has turned out huge crowds, eight were reported. Two deaths each were reported in Salin, a town in Magwe region, and in Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city. Mawlamyine, in the country’s southeast, and Myingyan and Kalay, both in central Myanmar, each had a single death.
As part of the crackdown, security forces have also arrested hundreds of people at protests, including journalists. On Saturday, at least eight journalists were detained.
The escalation of the crackdown has led to increased diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar’s political crisis, but there appears to be few viable options. It’s not yet clear if Wednesday’s soaring death toll could change the dynamic.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold a closed-door meeting on the situation on Friday, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to give the information before the official announcement. The United Kingdom requested for 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.
In addition to the deaths, there have been reports of other violence. 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.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2021