Chilling message shows nation on the edge
After explicit new threats from the military that they will kill their own civilians, the people of Myanmar are taking an extraordinary new steps to make sure their fight against their new leaders is not in vain.
Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people defied an increasingly hostile army in the South-East Asian nation’s biggest demonstrations since it was taken over three weeks ago.
Since arresting Myanmar’s democratically elected government at the start of the month, the junta has attempted to crush its critics with violence.
That violence hit a new level when they shot and killed three demonstrators over the weekend, after battering civilians with bullets, tear gas and slingshots for weeks and slashing the internet for nine days straight so the world couldn’t see what was happening.
In an ominous message to those fighting to restore democracy, the military used the nation’s state-owned media to issue a chilling threat.
“Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” MRTV said on Sunday, claiming security forces had to “fire back” after coming under attack from “notorious ex-criminals and their gangs”.
It cautioned protesters against inciting “riot and anarchy”.
The chilling message has not deterred the protests which have swelled to enormous proportions this week, but it’s clear that many of them fear their military will open fire on them.
Many of them are now scrawling messages onto their arms – with their blood type and emergency contact numbers – just in case they get injured, require help or so their loved ones can be informed if they are killed at a protest opposing the army.
They have every right to believe the army will harm them. Over the weekend, two people were killed when security forces fired at protesters in the city of Mandalay, and a third man was shot dead in Yangon while protecting his community on a night patrol.
A young woman also died on Friday after being shot in the head at a protest and spending almost a fortnight on life support.
Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, whose funeral was held on Sunday, was the first confirmed fatality of the protests, and she has emerged as a potent symbol of the anti-junta movement.
Rather than crush the movement, the deaths have intensified the civilian resistance – with incredible pictures showing hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathering in the nation’s cities yesterday.
The protests were so big that they have been dubbed the “22222” uprising in a nod to the date, 22/2/2021, and to the anti-junta demonstration of August 8, 1988 – known as 8888 – which ended with the military shooting thousands of demonstrators but out of which the pro-democracy movement was born.
However, the military is refusing to cave into the pressure.
So far they have detained at least 684 people since the coup, according to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry justified its use of force against protesters, and accused the United Nations and other governments of “flagrant interference” in the country’s internal affairs.
“Despite facing the unlawful demonstrations, incitements of unrest and violence, the authorities concerned are exercising utmost restraint through minimum use of force to address the disturbances,” it said in a statement.
There are fears the violence could begin to spiral – as Myanmar’s military has a history of crushing its critics with brute strength before the nation’s transition to a democracy began 10 years ago.
Armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup three weeks ago, also led the 2017 crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority in the western state of Rakhine – which human rights groups say was carried out with “genocidal intent”.
“The security forces’ approach could take an even darker turn fast,” the International Crisis Group warned in a briefing.
“Soldiers and armoured vehicles have begun to reinforce the police lines and, should the generals become impatient with the status quo, could easily become the sharp end of a bloody crackdown, as has happened in the past.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres spoke out forcefully, condemning the junta’s “brutal force”.
“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately,” he said.
“Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections.” The United States, Canada and Britain have imposed sanctions on the generals running Myanmar.
London on Monday summoned Myanmar’s envoy for the second time this month to condemn the coup and the response to the protests.
The European Union on Monday announced it had agreed to add the 27-nation bloc’s weight to the financial pressure.
“We took the political agreement to apply sanctions targeting the military responsible for the coup and their economic interests,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
“All direct financial support from our development system to the government reform programs is withheld.” Washington also maintained its public campaign against the junta. “The United States will continue to take firm action against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Myanmar as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tweeted.
– With AFP