Reports emerged Saturday of more than 80 killed in the latest bloodletting by Myanmar’s military, as the country’s own ambassador to the United Nations called for “strong action” against the junta.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with protesters refusing to submit to the junta and demanding a return to democracy.
After over two months of military rule, efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been curtailed by the junta’s throttling of mobile data within the country — shunting most of the population into an information blackout.
Details of a brutal crackdown in the city of Bago, 65 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of Yangon, took a full day to emerge, as residents told AFP of continued violence by the army which forced them to flee to nearby villages.
By Saturday evening, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners — a local monitoring group tracking deaths — confirmed “over 80 anti-coup protesters were killed by security forces in Bago on Friday”.
AFP-verified footage shot early Friday showed protesters hiding behind sandbag barricades wielding homemade rifles, as explosions could be heard in the background.
Authorities had refused to let rescue workers near the bodies, said a resident.
“They piled up all the dead bodies, loaded them into their army truck and drove it away,” he told AFP.
State-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Saturday blamed the crackdown on “rioters”, and reported only one dead.
The United Nations office in Myanmar tweeted late Saturday night that it was following the bloodshed in Bago, where medical treatment had been “denied’ to the injured.
“We call on the security forces to allow medical teams to treat the wounded,” it said.
Bago’s violence will add to AAPP’s current death toll of 618 civilians killed since the coup.
The junta has a far lower number: 248, according to a spokesman Friday.
– ‘They will not rule us’ –
Unrest also erupted Saturday in the northwestern town of Tamu, near the Myanmar-India border, where protesters fought back when soldiers tried to tear down barricades erected to protect their community.
Two civilians were killed when soldiers started randomly shooting, said a local, with protesters retaliating by throwing a bomb that exploded and overturned a military truck, killing over a dozen soldiers.
“Some are in hiding — we are worried that our people will be hurt as a reprisal” she told AFP, adding that all Tamu’s residents are calling for is “down with the dictatorship”.
Despite the daily bloodshed, protesters have continued to take to the streets, with demonstrators manifesting their discontent in pointedly creative ways.
In commercial hub Yangon, crimson paint — representing the blood already spilled — was splashed across the streets in view of the historic Shwedagon Pagoda.
Flyers with the words “They will not rule us” were scattered across Yangon neighbourhoods.
State-run media announced Friday night that 19 people had been sentenced to death for robbery and murder under a military tribunal — with 17 of them tried in absentia.
Human Rights Watch condemned the sentences Saturday as a way to sow fear in the anti-coup movement, as Norway’s foreign minister called the use of capital punishment “unacceptable”.
– ‘Fight the common enemy’ –
The mounting bloodshed has also angered some of Myanmar’s 20 or so armed ethnic groups, who control swathes of territory mostly in border regions.
Unrest erupted Saturday in northern Shan State, as Ta’ang National Liberation Army, an ethnic rebel group, mounted a pre-dawn attack on a police station, said TNLA’s Brigadier General Tar Bhone Kyaw, who declined to say more.
Local media reported more than a dozen police officers were killed, while TNLA said the military retaliated with air strikes on their troops, killing at least one rebel soldier.
State-run television reported in the evening that “terrorist armed groups” attacked the police station with heavy weaponry and set it on fire.
The attack comes the same day TNLA’s ally, the Arakan Army — also a prominent rebel group based in western Rakhine state — issued a statement reiterating their support for the anti-coup movement.
Two other outfits — the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Army — have stepped up attacks on military and police in recent weeks.
The military has retaliated with air strikes in KNU’s territory, which the rebel group said has displaced more than 24,000 civilians in Karen state by Saturday.
– ‘At the brink of state failure’ –
“Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” Myanmar’s Ambassador to the UN Kyaw Moe Tun told a Security Council meeting on Friday, proposing a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions against members of the military.
An independent analyst with the International Crisis Group, also warned the council that Myanmar was “at the brink of state failure”.
“(The junta’s) actions may be creating a situation where the country becomes ungovernable,” said Richard Horsey.
China and Russia wield veto power at the Security Council and generally oppose sanctions.
But Beijing — the top ally of Myanmar’s military — has voiced growing concern about instability, and has said it is speaking to “all parties”.