Words by Oliver Mizzi
Anti-coup demonstrators have been fired upon with live ammunition by military and police units in Myanmar for demonstrating against the military coup that took place on 1 February. The coup that took place ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi who had won last year’s November elections. Human rights investigator Thomas Andrews told the UN that since the start of the demonstrations 70 protestors have been fatally shot, with over 2,000 being detained. That number rose over the weekend, surpassing 80.
In recent weeks the military has insisted on using greater force against the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that has emerged following the coup. Police officers that had fled Myanmar to neighbouring India have told international reporters that the military ordered them to “shoot till they are dead”. Around 100 police officers and their families have fled.
There have also been reports of police officers defecting to the CDM. On February 28, Police Major Tin Min Tun announced on a Facebook live-stream that he was joining the CDM, whilst calling on fellow officers to “do what you believe is right”. Other high-ranking police officers have since joined in protest.
Human rights groups made a joint call for the UN to implement an arms embargo on the new government, which has used live ammunition to quell unrest. Joanne Mariner of Amnesty international labelled the tactics used by the government as a “killing spree”.
Footage of the violence has made its way online. Video evidence has shown that police officers have resorted to beating protestors prior to detention, and firing weapons such as shotguns, submachine guns, and assault rifles.
As well as footage of police perpetration, video and photo evidence of the aftermath have also emerged. Some of the photos include wounds from beatings, rubber bullets and live rounds. Videos show protestors carrying the injured and dead away from where they had been shot.
In response to the violence committed by the new military state, protestors have increasingly become more organised. Protestors have armed themselves with makeshift shields and gas masks to protect the protests from police enforced dispersion – which often means the use of tear gas and physical beatings.
Videos have emerged online of protestors fighting back against the state. In one video, protestors are seen throwing Molotov cocktails and firing homemade projectiles at the police, whilst seeking cover from tear gas and other rounds, behind an elaborate barricade made of wooden spikes, metal fencing, and bricks.
Another video that emerged shows protestors drilling with makeshift shields, forming a two layered shield wall designed to protect from projectiles like rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.
The crackdown has also targeted Myanmar’s press with police raiding media offices – such as the news outlet Mizzima – and arresting journalists, including Thein Zaw who works for the Associated Press.
Although violence has increased, peaceful demonstrations continue across the country. Marches have continued, and candlelight vigils are frequently held to commemorate those recently killed. Myanmar’s religious communities have also actively participated, with Buddhist monks from Sitagu International Buddhist University marching in solidarity with the CDM.
During a confrontation between protestors and the police outside Saint Columban’s Cathedral in Myitkyina, a Catholic nun implored police to not fire on protests, kneeling whilst doing so. However, the police fired on the protestors which resulted in two protestors being killed, and another two injured.
Whilst the new military government has increased its violence against protestors in major cities across Myanmar, in the periphery of the country, the military has increasingly engaged armed rebel groups. One such area is the province of Kachin where there has been a flare up of fighting between the military and the Kachin Independence Army.
On Friday, 10 armed rebel groups met online to discuss ways of supporting the CDM and offer protection to protestors from state violence. The group discussed ways to cooperate with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Myanmar’s national legislative body) and the General Strike Committee.
Some rebel groups such as the Karen National Liberation Army and Karen National Defence Organisation have been providing security to anti-coup demonstrators in their areas of operation.
In conjunction with increasingly violent action against anti-coup protesters, the military has put more pressure on the ousted leadership of the country. Over the weekend, Myanmar’s military accused Aung San Suu Kyi of illegally accepting $600,000 and 11kg of gold. Accusations of corruption were also levelled at President Win Myint and other members of the government that the military ousted. An MP from the National league for Democracy – the ruling party – denied the allegations.
Picture Credit: VOA Burmese