Myanmar forces gun down at least 80 near Yangon

Myanmar forces gun down at least 80 near Yangon

Details of slayings emerge on same day that 19 are sentenced to death in killing of officer's friend

An image from a video posted on social media shows police firing a water cannon at protesters during a demonstration in Bago, Myanmar on Friday. Reports say security officers subsequently fired rifle grenades, killing dozens. (Handout Photo via Reuters)
An image from a video posted on social media shows police firing a water cannon at protesters during a demonstration in Bago, Myanmar on Friday. Reports say security officers subsequently fired rifle grenades, killing dozens. (Handout Photo via Reuters)

Myanmar security forces have killed more than 80 anti-coup protesters in a town near Yangon, a monitoring group and a domestic news outlet said on Saturday.

Troops used rifle grenades to break up the protest in Bago, witnesses and domestic media said. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and the Myanmar Now news portal said 82 people were killed.

Soldiers reportedly surrounded residents from early morning on Friday, using heavy weaponry. They brought the dead into a pagoda, Myanmar Now reported, citing a protest group leader who spoke with eyewitnesses.

It was not possible to get a precise number of the dead because troops had cordoned off the area near the pagoda, they said.

After over two months of military rule, efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been greatly curtailed by the junta’s throttling of communications within the country — shunting most of the population into an information blackout.

Details of the brutal crackdown in Bago, 65 kilometres northeast of Yangon, took a full day to emerge, as residents told AFP of continued violence from the junta which pushed them to flee to nearby villages.

By Saturday evening, the AAAP 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 and 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.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Saturday blamed the crackdown on “rioters”, and reported only one dead.

The death toll in Bago, if confirmed, will add to the 618 civilians known by AAAP to have been killed since the coup on Feb 1.

News of the mass killing in Bago emerged on the same day that 19 people were reported to have been sentenced to death for killing an associate of an army captain in a district of Yangon.

Seventeen of the people were sentenced in absentia, the military-owned Myawaddy television station reported on Friday. They were the first such sentences announced in public since the Feb 1 coup.

On March 27, the 19 accused robbed and tortured an army officer and his associate after stopping their motorbike in the township of North Okkalapa in Yangon, killing the latter, according to Myanma Radio and Television (MRTV). The township is one of several in Yangon where the junta declared martial law in March.

Out of the 19, only two are in custody, and the rest remain at large, the report said.

In another development, an alliance of ethnic armies that has opposed the junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protests reportedly attacked a police station in the east of the country on Saturday and at least 10 policemen were killed.

The police station at Naungmon in Shan state was attacked by fighters from an alliance that includes the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, local media reported.

Shan News said at least 10 policemen were killed, while the Shwe Phee Myay news outlet put the death toll at 14.

A spokesman for the junta did not return calls asking for comment.

A spokesman said on Friday that the protest campaign against its rule was dwindling because people wanted peace, and that it would hold elections within two years, the first timeframe it has given for a return to democracy.

When the soldiers first seized power on Feb 1, they said they would run the country for one year before holding elections.

More than 600 people have been killed and about 2,800 arrested since the junta took control.

Junta spokesman Brig Gen Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, that the country was returning to normal and government ministries and banks would resume full operations soon.

The country has ground to a standstill because of daily protests and widespread strikes against military rule.

“The reason of reducing protests is due to cooperation of people who want peace, which we value,” Zaw Min Tun said. “We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them.”

He said the military had recorded 248 deaths and he denied that automatic weapons had been used. Sixteen policemen had also been killed, he said.

Zaw Min Tun also accused members of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy of arson and said the protest campaign was being financed by foreign money, but gave no details.

Reports that some members of the international community did not recognise the military government were “fake news”, he added.

“We are cooperating with foreign countries and working together with neighbouring countries,” he added.

Ousted Myanmar lawmakers urged the United Nations Security Council on Friday to take action against the military.

“Our people are ready to pay any cost to get back their rights and freedom,” said Zin Mar Aung, who has been appointed acting foreign minister for a group of ousted lawmakers. She urged Council members to apply both direct and indirect pressure on the junta.

“Myanmar stands at the brink of state failure, of state collapse,” Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar with the International Crisis Group, told the informal UN meeting, the first public discussion of Myanmar by council members.

The UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, had wanted to visit the country but said she has been rebuffed by the generals.

“I regret that Tatmadaw answered me yesterday that they are not ready to receive me,” Schraner Burgener said after arriving in Bangkok for the start of a regional tour to test the waters for a diplomatic push to help guide the country out of its crisis.

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