Myanmar junta declares martial law in six Yangon townships

Move in six Yangon townships and parts of Mandalay follows deadliest weekend since coup

The military junta in Myanmar has put six townships in Yangon and parts of Mandalay under martial law, as six more protesters were shot dead across the country after the bloodiest weekend since its coup last month.

A column of military trucks was seen trundling towards the Yangon suburb of Hlaing Thayar, where photos from the scene showed the charred remains of barricades. On Sunday, security forces killed at least 37 people and wounded dozens more after Chinese-owned factories in the township were deliberately set alight.

On Sunday night the military imposed direct army rule on the poor working-class industrial area and another township. On Monday, four more districts in the country’s biggest city as well as parts of Mandalay were put under martial law. Protesters can now be tried in military courts, with gatherings restricted.

According to witnesses and local media, security forces used live rounds again on Monday against supporters of the detained democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Demonstrators marched in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city, and in the central towns of Myingyan and Aunglan, where police opened fire.

“One girl got shot in the head and a boy got shot in the face,” an 18-year-old protester in Myingyan told Reuters by phone. “I’m now hiding.”

Myanmar Now, a news agency, said three people were killed in Myingyan and two in Aunglan. A journalist in Mandalay said one person was shot dead there after a large protest had passed off peacefully. At least 150 people have died since the coup on 1 February, with about 2,200 arrested.

It is unclear who is behind Sunday’s arson attacks. Beijing has called on the Myanmar military to protect Chinese companies and staff. China is widely seen as a supporter of the coup, which followed a landslide victory in November for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

She has been held since the military takeover and faces various charges, including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols. Last week, a more serious charge related to accepting illegal payments was added to the list.

Aung San Suu Kyi was due to face another virtual court hearing on Monday but her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters the session could not go ahead because the internet was down, which meant no video conferencing. The next hearing has been scheduled for 24 March, he said.

Khin Maung Zaw also said authorities had informed him the detained Nobel laureate would only be permitted to be represented by two junior lawyers. Western countries have demanded Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate release and have condemned the junta’s violent tactics.

The military appears determined to crush protesters by force and to shut off their ability to communicate with the outside world. Telecommunication providers were reportedly ordered on Monday to block all mobile data nationwide. Telecom Telenor said in a statement “mobile internet was unavailable”.

Am told many areas in #Yangon #Myanmar unable to access data via mobile services. Different screens show various Telcos with low or no signals. Many reliant on home WiFi now. During protests, many have been streaming live videos of violence from ground #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar

— May Wong (@MayWongCNA) March 15, 2021

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s oldest minority ethnic insurgent group, the Karen National Union, condemned the latest violence and said it fully supported the demonstrators. The KNU signed a ceasefire with the army in 2012 after decades of fighting.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has risen since the coup, with opponents of the army takeover noting Beijing’s muted criticism compared with western condemnation.

Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a protest leader and human rights activist, said Myanmar people did not hate their Chinese neighbours but China’s rulers had to understand the outrage felt in Myanmar over their stand.

“Chinese government must stop supporting coup council if they actually care about Sino-Myanmar relations and to protect their businesses,” she tweeted.

Western countries have condemned the violence and Asian neighbours have offered to help resolve the crisis, but Myanmar has a long record of rejecting outside intervention.

Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar, Dan Chugg, has called for “an immediate cessation” of violence and for the military regime to hand back power to democratically elected civilian leaders.

“We have seen the violence today in Hlaing Tharyar township and in other places across Yangon and Myanmar. The British government is appalled by the security forces’ use of deadly force against innocent people,” Chugg said on Sunday.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar, appealed to UN member states to cut the supply of cash and weapons to the military.

The International Labour Organization said trade unionists have been arrested and harassed in door-to-door searches while others were in hiding. The International Trade Union Confederation reported widespread restrictions on workers’ rights since the coup.

Reuters contributed to this report


Luke Harding and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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