Myanmar Journal: Ministry of the State Counselor’s office dismantled
Daily round-up of the latest events in Myanmar by ThaiPBS World correspondent David Tun.
February 24th – The previous night’s rumours have been confirmed and the military has dismantled the Ministry of the State Counselor’s office, a position and a ministry created solely for the purpose of getting around Aung San Suu Kyi not being able to become president.
While protests did continue at the Indonesia Embassy, they are now for a different reason. The Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marusdi will no longer be visiting Myanmar on the 25th but will, instead, be flying to Thailand for an informal meeting with the military appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.
Her subsequent press briefing revealed that Indonesia has not sought to impart legitimacy to the coup installed government and has also held discussions with the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). Indonesia has tried to lead ASEAN nations to pressure the military to uphold its promise of holding an election. It also wants Aung San Suu Kyi to be freed.
Well intentioned or not, people are outraged that Indonesia seems to be showing the ASEAN style of being ‘good neighbours’ by only seeking stability in the region. Some pro-democracy activists reckon that ASEAN is afraid and protests could be held across the region as part of the “Milk Tea Alliance”.
Arrests and crackdowns in Myanmar continued throughout the day. Two youths on motorbikes in Muse were shot, allegedly by the military, early in the morning. While full information on the incident is yet to emerge, two female journalists in Monywa have been detained. One from The Voice and another from MCN reportedly contacted the local police station for the police’s point of view, regarding an item of news published on February 22nd. The station chief promised them an interview but instead arrested them when they arrived at the police station.
Mandalay residents report that four more people have been shot dead by the police and military. One of the cases reported was Yarzar Aung, who bled to death after a bullet went through his kneecap. He was locked up without any receiving any medical attention. The corpse was not released because Yarzar Aung was declared COVID-19 positive and promptly cremated.
At night in Yangon, residents of a ward in Hlaingtharyar Township protested against the appointment of local administrators by the military. They were attacked with knives by someone coming out of the local administration’s office building. Photo and video evidence shows at least two people sustained life-threatening injuries.
A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute fuels suspicions that China is backing the coup installed government, one way or the other.
Reports also came in late at night that a police outpost in Kachin State was attacked by the local ethnic armed force, the Kachin Independence Army.
A march or a protest in support of the military is reportedly being planned in Yangon Region in the next day or two, as social media posts started flooding in telling of buses in outskirt areas, such as Thanlyin and Kawthmu, where people are gathering.
February 23 – Civil disobedience continues
As businesses reopen and protestors rest to regain their energy, the push for the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) once again takes center stage. Most people agree that the ‘22222’ was a successful show of force, both to the world and the military government.
As the US places sanctions on more members of the military top brass, ASEAN seems to have a different approach. It has always been the way of the “ASEAN Family” to stick to a policy of non-interference and the same sentiment was echoed when Reuters reported that Indonesia is pushing for the coup installed government to uphold the promise of a new election.
Though there were few protests on Tuesday, a group of protestors did gather near the Indonesian Embassy in Yangon, but the routes to other embassies were blocked. Since the outcry on social media and protests aimed at Indonesia, not only in Myanmar but also in places like Bangkok, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that “Myanmar people’s wishes must be respected”. A representative of the Indonesian Embassy also spoke to the protestors, claiming that Myanmar’s coup had jeopardized the stability of the ASEAN region and that it is not just an isolated internal affair. Leaked internal documents suggest, however, that Retno Marsudi will be visiting Myanmar on a one-day trip on February 25th, making her the first foreign official to visit the coup installed military government.
The military’s attempts to legitimize the coup also appeared in the form of an invitation, by the newly formed Union Election Commission, for political parties to join the discussion. A large number of parties, including the ousted National League for Democracy, have refused to attend the meeting, while some parties will be attending only as observers, instead of as official guests.
As the day turned into evening, the funerals of two people killed in police shootings were held in Mandalay. The police also released 182 of the 190 people arrested in Pyinmana, Nay Pyi Taw, on “signed confessions” (similar to a mini-parole) which, essentially, guarantees them a court case should they be arrested again for protesting. Another eight people remain in police custody, they are charged under the natural disasters management law.
The police and military continue to conduct night raids and arrests, going as far as to take sons, daughters and relatives of their targets, should their target not be at home. Most night raids across Myanmar are targeted at CDM participants and warrants have been issued for celebrities, social influencers and politicians, mostly for urging participation in CDM.
Despite soldiers hunting for the CDM leaders, the movement remains a big part of the protests. Private bank workers across the country are on strike, the people are boycotting military products and economic uncertainty looms. Citizens, who had saving accounts in government banks, are withdrawing most of their money. The Myawaddi Bank announced, from their Yangon head office, that no more withdrawals will be allowed until March.
The hacktivist group Anonymous has declared “war” on the military government, announcing a list of military-related websites as their targets, including dsinfo.org, the main website of the military’s information team
February 22 – The ‘22222’ Uprising
Most citizens woke up early to join possibly the biggest show of force since the coup on February 1st. Many, especially young protestors in Yangon, were embolden by the fact that some internet lines were restored at 9am, because it makes it easier to see updates on Facebook if anything occurs.
Despite the threat of violence and death from the military, the whole nation marched in protest against the military dictatorship, demanding justice and for democracy to be restored. The police, however, have been busy setting up barricades at popular protest spots, such as the United Nations Office and embassies, including the US Embassy.
It seems the police also took a page from the protestors’ handbook as a 12-wheel truck was seen parked across the Thanlyin Bridge.
As millions across the nation took to the streets to protest against oppression, the police and military were relatively restrained, compared to the brutal deeds they committed in places like Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay and Myitkyina. The police did, however, still crack down on protestors in multiple places across the country, such as Pyinmana, Nay Pyi Taw.
Local journalists confirmed that the police issued no warnings to disperse nor were water cannons used. Instead, they charged in force at the protestors, beating them and arresting anyone they could get their hands on. Journalists reported that they also had to escape from the chaos, estimating that at least 150 people were taken into custody by security forces. Pyinmana residents took a quick tally and reported that 193 were arrested with 266 motorcycles and 8 cars confiscated. Many of those arrested were reportedly young girls, triggering fears that they will be sexually harassed or violated.
Meanwhile, the state-owned newspaper reports, on their cover page, that civilians were paying homage to pagodas, such as Shwe Dagon, peacefully.
In Yangon, protestors played a game of chicken with the police. As popular places remain closed, protests raged elsewhere. When the police moved to extend their barricades or to deploy elsewhere, protestors were seen dispersing quickly, only to convene at another location.
In Myawaddi, the local ethnic armed forces once again accompanied the protestors. A video clip went viral of a high ranking officer from the KNU talking to the police, warning that if even one rubber bullet is fired at the protestors there will be “no way out” for the police. Protests continued without any conflict.
As the day came to a close, the CRPH announced their next step in forming a parallel government – this time, getting international acceptance. Dr. Sasa has been appointed as their Special Envoy of the CRPH to the United Nations, while international relations duties were given to Htin Lin Aung, with an office representing the CRPH to be opened in Maryland, USA. Dr. Sasa is the founder of Health & Hope Myanmar and is known for his philanthropic work, especially in his native Chin State. CRPH Special Representative Htin Lin Aung has been actively involved in pro-democracy movements in the past, participating and going into hiding after the 2007 Saffron Revolution. He now lives in the US.
Internet cuts and restricted access to websites, programs and applications remain to this day. The regularly scheduled news program, via state-owned broadcast media channels, threatens the news media that continuing use of the term “the coup government” will be punished by revoking their license to publish news.
February 21 – Amidst the protests, a minute of silence observed across the nation
As people woke and managed to get online at 9am, when the internet block gets lifted, they were treated to a deluge of information.
With ongoing protests and more calls for CDM movement action, following yesterday’s brutalities, a General Strike Committee (GSM) was formed. It consists of 25 groups, including studens unions and political parties. Despite credible claims that members of the GSM have been leading protests since day one of the uprising, people find them hard to believe. Some NLD supporters are afraid that they will undermine and conflict with the efforts of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (a sort of interim parliament).
Amidst the protests, a minute of silence was observed by citizens across the nation. The funeral of Mya Thwe Thwe Khine, the 19 year-old girl who was shot in the head by police, was held in Nay Pyi Taw. Despite a police and military presence along the funeral procession’s route, as well as at the cemetery, close to one hundred thousand people attended. Protestors also saluted those who were killed yesterday in Mandalay.
In Yangon, protestors gathered again in front of the Chinese embassy, after the Chinese Foreign Minister said that Myanmar’s affairs are an internal matter and that ASEAN nations should not get involved, while he was speaking with Brunei, the current ASEAN chair, on 19th February.
In Mandalay, despite brutalities inflicted on them by the police and military, protests remained peaceful. Protestors also visited the site of the shooting of a 16 year-old boy, allegedly by a sniper, and paid their respects.
In Myawaddi, members of the ethnic armed force Karen National Union (KNU) were seen accompanying the main protest column. They came armed. No clashes between the KNU and the authorities occurred.
As the next day is 2.22.2021, a push for the “22222” day has gone viral online. The plan is for the whole country to go on strike as businesses announced their closure on Monday. Reports also started to come in, after the curfew time of 8pm, that military units had been deployed to several locations across Yangon.
At around 11pm, there was a call for the establishment of mini-administrative bodies within each ward and neighborhood. The bodies are mainly to be comprised of ordinary citizens, but helmed by an elected official, if available.
Protestors plan to avoid remaining in any one lace for too long and only leave their homes after 12 noon, when the internet connection is usually restored.
February 20 – Live rounds, rubber bullets, tear gas, batons and 3 deaths
Saturday morning, a day off for many private sector workers, saw many marches and protests in Myanmar. The push for civil disobedience continued across the country for the 17th consecutive day.
The Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) met via video conference. The PPST is made up of ethnic armed forces, all of them signatories to Myanmar’s National Ceasefire Act, including the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army, the Karen National Union, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the All Burma Student’s Democratic Front and more. A good proportion of them have also denounced the military coup. During the meeting it was revealed that the PPST has ceased all political meetings and discussions with the military.
The Kachin Independence Army, an armed group which has publically stated its support for the protests, announced that they are under attack by the army’sregiment 99 in Kachin State.
Myitkyina, the major city in Kachin State, which was scarred by the previous day’s brutalities and the people left enraged, saw a huge turnout of protestors. There were no arrests and no crackdown at the protests today, but the wanton use of force could occur in one of the military’s favorite targets for suppression: Mandalay.
Local media and citizens in Mandalay reported that, in the afternoon, the Yadarnarbon jetty, participating in CDM, saw the arrival of security forces. As people gathered, a police officer negotiated with local residents and CDM staff.
They wanted the boat services to run, but the staff refused. Tension grew and soon chaos ensued along Mandalay’s Strand Road and in nearby areas. Photos and video recordings have been shared widely on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, of the police and military personnel firing live rounds and rubber bullets into crowds of people, using tear gas and beating anyone within reach with batons, taking them away if they could catch them.
At the time of this report, the final number of people killed or injured had not yet been confirmed. Preliminary estimates are that at least 3 have people were killed and over 20 injured.
So far, two fatalities have, however, been confirmed. Both were male. One was shot through his torso and died from exsanguination. The other was a 16 year old boy, who appears to have been shot with a high velocity round. He died instantly. Video footage, recorded by those near the boy when he was shot, shows civilians hiding behind cars and running from cover to cover. The boy’s skull was shattered by the impact of the bullet.
At around 11:30pm, another civilian allegedly killed by the police in Shwepyithar Township. A neighborhood watch member asked the occupants of a police vehicle why they were in the area. Photos and Facebook live videos taken by people nearby show that the man was shot through the eye and died on the spot. The police drove away immediately.
Medics reported that ambulances were also fired upon by the military. Some claimed that those who attempted to collect the dead and injured were also targets.
Following this incident, the volume of calls for ‘tougher’ protests has increased significantly, though some remain concerned that peaceful protests may descend into all-out riots. It is reported locally that the soldiers who fired on civilians were from military regiment 33, the same troops that carried out the genocide during the 2017 Rohingya Crisis.
Some believe, however, that this is part of the military leaders’ strategy, which is to incite violence. Others, meanwhile, believe that, strategy or not, more action is needed. The anger is palpable.
Meanwhile, military-owned broadcast media Myawaddi reported claims of the death of a policeman caused by “unlawful” acts. Relatives of the deceased claim that the policeman died during a brawl, which was unrelated to the ongoing protests.
There are also rumours that the internet cut off, which usually starts at 1am, will be brought forward to 11pm. The military government will block online tools, such as Google Drive, YouTube and Wikipedia, as well as their usual blocks on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
February 19 – The people of Myanmar have bigger things to worry about.
On Friday morning, news broke that Britain and Canada had imposed sanctions on the military top brass now running Myanmar, including on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing himself.
Foreign affairs ministers from the US, India, Australia and Japan jointly announced that Myanmar must return to the democratic progress as soon as possible. Norway also announced its decision suspend assistance to Myanmar.
China, via the Global Times, calls the anti-China sentiment “manipulation by the west”, stating that “for a long time, the west and some anti-China forces have been trying to make use of Myanmar.” This comes after yet another declaration by China yesterday that the Myanmar situation should be settled lawfully and that China does not want to see political turmoil resulting from the coup.
Whether or not the sanctions and the statements will help, the people of Myanmar have bigger things to worry about. Early in the morning, Myitkyina saw further brutal crackdowns on peaceful protestors. Two teachers and at least 10 others were beaten and forcefully detained by the police in front of the Myitkyina Education College and near the local clock tower.
Journalists at the scene were threatened and told to stop recording or filming, with some even being shot at with slingshots. Currently, 14 people, including two female teachers,have been released as the Peace Creation Group mediated their release.
Win Htein, an influential NLD patron, was arrested and charged with sedition, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years on conviction. He was put on trial today, via video conference,in Nay Pyi Taw. Notably, the plaintiff requested that Win Htein be sentenced immediately by the court.
Mya Thwe Khine, the girl who was shot in the head and who was declared brain dead, officially passed away today and her body was transferred to the morgue from the hospital in Nay Pyi Taw. Protesters around the country held ceremonies to honour her life and mourn her death.
Throughout the day, the military and police continued to arrest protestors, especially student activists and CDM participants. Even after curfew time in Yangon, local residents in places like Tamwe Township gathered as police were seen assembling. Both sides decided to back off without any confrontation.
In Pakokku, the arrest of two students from the Students Union prompted a rapid gathering of local residents to protest in front of the police station. This started at 8:30pm and by midnight no further news had broken on the situation.
Notably, the soldier that joined the protests in Monywa has resurfaced. This time, the military’s True News Information Team uploaded a video of the soldier claiming that he only joined the civilians because he was “tricked”. This caused further anger towards the military. Some believe that the move was dissuade any other soldiers from crossing sides in the future.
Internet connections are now being cut by 1am.
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