'People were shot before my eyes': At least 39 killed in one of Myanmar's deadliest days since coup

The United Nations' envoy for Myanmar has strongly condemned the continuing bloodshed after at least 39 protesters were killed in one of the deadliest days since the country's 1 February coup.

An injured demonstrator is carried to receive medical attention during a protest against the military coup in Hlaingthaya on 14 March.

An injured demonstrator is carried to receive medical attention during a protest against the military coup in Hlaingthaya on 14 March. Source: EPA/STRINGER via AAP

Security forces killed at least 22 anti-coup protesters in the poor, industrial Hlaingthaya suburb of Myanmar’s main city on Sunday after Chinese-financed factories were set ablaze there, an advocacy group said.

A further 16 protesters were killed in other places, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said, as well as one policeman, making it the bloodiest day since the coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February.

The Chinese embassy said many Chinese staff were injured and trapped in arson attacks by unidentified assailants on garment factories in Hlaingthaya and that it had called on Myanmar to protect Chinese property and citizens. China is viewed as being supportive of the military junta that has taken power.

As plumes of smoke rose from the industrial area, local media reported that security forces opened fire on protesters in the suburb that is home to migrants from across the country.

Protesters make new road block after police burn their makeshift blockade on 14 March.

“It was horrible. People were shot before my eyes. It will never leave my memory,” said one photojournalist on the scene who did not want to be named.

The UN for Myanmar on Sunday strongly condemned continuing bloodshed after at least 39 protesters were killed in one of the deadliest days since the country's 1 February coup.

"The international community, including regional actors, must come together in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations," Christine Schraner Burgener said in a statement.

She said the Myanmar military was defying international calls for restraint, adding she had heard "heartbreaking accounts of killings, mistreatment of demonstrators and torture of prisoners" from contacts inside the Southeast Asian country.

"The ongoing brutality, including against medical personnel and destruction of public infrastructure, severely undermines any prospects for peace and stability," she said.

Martial law

Martial law was imposed in Hlaingthaya and another district of Myanmar’s commercial hub, state media announced.

Army-run Myawadday television said security forces acted after four garment factories and a fertiliser plant were set ablaze and about 2,000 people had stopped fire engines from reaching them.

A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.

Doctor Sasa, a representative of elected lawmakers from the assembly that was ousted by the army, voiced solidarity with the people of Hlaingthaya.

“The perpetrators, attackers, enemies of the people of Myanmar, the evil SAC (State Administrative Council) will be held accountable for every drop of blood that shed,” Mr Sasa said in a message.

The latest deaths would bring the toll from the protests to well over 100 while the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group had said over 2,100 had also been arrested by Saturday.

China calls for action

China’s embassy described the situation as “very severe” after the attacks on the Chinese-financed factories. It did not make a statement about the killings.

“China urges Myanmar to take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement.

No group claimed responsibility for burning the factories.

The embassy’s Facebook page was bombarded with negative comments in Burmese and more than half the reactions, over 29,000, used the laughing-face emoji.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has risen since the coup that plunged Myanmar into turmoil, with opponents of the army takeover noting Beijing’s muted criticism compared to Western condemnation.

Only two factories had been burnt, for now, protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on Facebook.

“If you want to do business in Myanmar stably, then respect Myanmar people,” she said. “Fighting Hlaingthaya, we are proud of you!!”

Britain was appalled by the use of deadly force by security forces against innocent people in Hlaingthaya and elsewhere on Sunday, its ambassador said in a statement.

“We call for an immediate cessation of this violence and for the military regime to hand back power to those democratically elected by the people of Myanmar,” Ambassador Dan Chugg said.

The army said it took power after its accusations of fraud in an election on 8 November won by Ms Suu Kyi’s party were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election but has not set a date.

Ms Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup and is due to return to court on Monday. She faces at least four charges, including the illegal use of walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.

Away from Hlaingthaya, at least 14 deaths were reported elsewhere in Myanmar, including in the second city of Mandalay and in Bago, where state television MRTV said a police officer had died of a chest wound after a confrontation with protesters.

He is the second policeman reported dead in the protests.

The violence took place a day after Mahn Win Khaing Than, who is on the run along with most senior officials from the Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party, said the civilian government would give people the legal right to defend themselves. It announced a law to that effect on Sunday.

Published 15 March 2021 at 7:10am, updated 15 March 2021 at 7:15am
Source: Reuters - SBS