Myanmar saw its deadliest day since the Feb. 1 coup, with the United Nations saying at least 18 protesters were killed in a stark escalation of violence to quell persistent demonstrations against military rule.
The deaths came after soldiers and police officers fired live ammunition into crowds in six cities across Myanmar, which also left more than 30 people wounded, UN Human Rights Office Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement on Sunday. Myanmar’s government said 12 people died.
“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” Shamdasani said.
The rising death toll may increase pressure on governments around the world to take more action against Myanmar’s generals, who refused to recognize a landslide election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party in November. The Biden administration has announced sanctions targeting the country’s military leaders, while urging a return to democracy.
“In shooting against unarmed citizens, the security forces have shown a blatant disregard for international law, and must be held to account,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs. “Violence will not give legitimacy to the illegal over-throwing of the democratically-elected government.”
We are heartbroken to see the loss of so many lives in Myanmar. People should not face violence for expressing dissent against the military coup. Targeting of civilians is abhorrent.
— U.S. Embassy Burma (@USEmbassyBurma) February 28, 2021
Prior to this weekend, only three protesters had died among hundreds of thousands that have protested almost daily across the country. Yet the country has become increasingly ungovernable as more people join the protest movement, leaving hospitals understaffed, containers stacking up at ports and bank ATMs running out of cash.
The Myanmar Police Force said that 571 protesters had been detained in 11 provinces on Sunday, after the UN Human Rights Office said more than 1,000 people had been “arbitrarily arrested” since the coup.
On Sunday night, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry repeated that the military takeover was constitutional and said some foreign countries were “wrongly misinterpreting it as a coup and anti-dictatorship protests.” It added that the government was “ensuring minimal use of force by avoiding a violent crackdown.”
A day earlier, the junta fired Myanmar’s UN envoy Kyaw Moe Tun after he urged the international community not to accept the military regime and instead recognize the results of the November general election.
“He failed to follow the state’s orders and instructions” and “committed treason,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy plans to put together a parallel government that could engage with the international community, the Financial Times reported, citing a party official who is on the run.
Southeast Asian foreign ministers are making arrangements to meet this week to discuss the situation, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday. It said most members of the 10-nation group have expressed a willingness to join, and Myanmar has been asked to participate, according to Kyodo.
Five journalists were arrested on Saturday for reporting on anti-coup protests, according to Myanmar Journalists Network. One of them is reported to be a photojournalist with the Associated Press, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group.
Myanmar’s violent crackdown is “outrageous and unacceptable, and must be immediately halted,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Live ammunition should not be used to control or disperse protests and lethal force can only be used to protect life or prevent serious injury.” –Bloomberg