Myanmar security forces mowed down more than 60 people with rifle grenades and machine guns as they cleared barricades built by anti-junta protesters in the central Myanmar city of Bago on Friday, leaving piles of bodies in pagodas and on school grounds of the ancient city, witnesses said.
Police and soldiers rained bullets and grenades on the streets of the Otthar Thiri ward of Bago, a city of 250,000 people and capital of the region of the same name, starting before dawn. The barricades were built by protesters who reject the Feb. 1 military overthrow of the country’s elected government.
“Our people in the ward knew they would be coming and had been waiting the whole night,” one resident who declined to give his name told RFA. “The soldiers used heavy weapons. We even found a mortar shell. There was a lot of machine-gun fire.”
“In addition to live rounds, the soldiers were said to be using grenade launchers,” the resident said.
The death toll was expected to rise as security forces were firing all day, taking shots as passersby on streets empty of traffic, other witnesses said. The attack on the barricade came after a two-day lull in protests.
Other local residents told RFA they were able to retrieve only three dead bodies by 8 p.m. and that soldiers carried away bodies piled up in the compound of the Zeyamuni Pagoda and at a nearby school.
The State Administration Council, the ruling junta set up after Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government were ousted and parliament dissolved, had no comments about the Bago bloodshed.
But state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) reported that a junta court martial imposed death sentences on 19 people on Friday for allegedly beating and torturing an army captain and another man, who died from his injuries, in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township last month.
Arrest warrants have been issued for the 19, including a 17-year-old woman, who are all at large, the report said.
Nearly 650 people have been killed by the military and the police since the Feb. 1 coup, according to an RFA tally. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based human rights group, reported 618 total deaths as of Friday and 2,931 people under detention since the coup took place.
‘They cremated him straightaway’
‘Across the multiethnic nation of 54 million people, anti-junta protesters braved the threat of lethal violence to staged demonstrations Friday in Mandalay, Tanintharyi, and Sagaing regions as well as in Kachin and Shan states.
In the town of Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay region, security forces shot 50-year-old Tin Moe as he fled approaching troops, who then took his body away, a resident said.
“Around 11:30 a.m., they came to arrest Tin Moe for taking part in the protests, and when he tried to escape, they shot him,” the witness said. “He was hit in the waist and must have died. We heard they cremated him straightaway.”
The blanket crackdown aimed at stifling protests has also snuffed out commercial activity and employment for residents of the Yangon, the former capital and commercial center. Business had already been at low ebb since early 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Economic pain is hitting everyone from civil servants who quit their jobs to join the protests, to factory workers who have lost their jobs to plant closures, to online workers who can’t access the internet after the junta largely shut down mobile internet and Wi-Fi services.
“We have been unemployed for nearly two months,” a former employee of Food Panda, an online food delivery group, told RFA. “The roads are blocked, and we cannot go out. The internet, which our food delivery service relied on, has been cut off.”
Nearly all factories and workshops have been closed because of the violent suppression of protests by the junta and fires at multiple factories, leaving of workers jobless. Nearly half of the more than six million people who live in Yangon have lost their jobs and now find it difficult to live there.
“Almost all factories in the area have closed down, and many are unemployed,” said a woman from Hlaingthaya township in Yangon, an industrial zone where fires wiped out many garment factories in March.
“Many workers have not had their wages paid yet, and many others have gone back to their hometowns,” she said. “We are lucky to have two meals a day, but there are many people who find it difficult to eat a single meal each day.”
Police and soldiers conducting surprise checks in every corner of the township make life difficult for pedestrians, cyclists, and casual workers, residents said. Rickshaw and taxi drivers have no income at all, they said.
“Problems resulting from the pandemic have been compounded by the protests,” said a young man who is helping provide shelter for a rickshaw driver.
“Some squatters do not even have a place to live, and the monsoon weather is approaching,” he said.
Government employees who left their jobs and joined the civil disobedience movement (CDM) against the military regime no longer receive salaries and have been evicted from government-provided housing.
“We were told to move out of our government housing by April 5, and so I moved out on April 3,” said a former employee of the Ministry of Information who joined the CDM. “It was so sudden, and there was some difficulty. I didn’t have much money on hand, so it wasn’t easy to rent an apartment. I have to stay with friends as a temporary measure.”
Removing satellite dishes
The junta has ordered people to remove Thai-made PSI satellite dishes throughout the country to cut off people’s access to information — a move that followed the progressive clampdown on social media, Wi-Fi, and mobile internet in the nearly 10 weeks since the coup.
The military regime also has banned independent TV news stations, including Mizzima and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), from broadcasting on the PSI channel since Thursday, they said.
Mizzima told RFA that junta forces had been removing PSI satellite dishes, and people no longer could watch the programs as of Wednesday afternoon.
“PSI clones are no longer available, so now we will have to turn back to our radios and listen to Voice of America, RFA, and BBC broadcasts to find out the truth,” said a resident of the town of Monywa in Sagaing region. “Our country is now like North Korea.”
Residents in several other cities, including Yangon, told RFA that security forces are dismantling their satellite dishes.
People have turned to accessing news on the radio and sharing it with others over the phone, a Bago resident said.
“Since the mobile internet was cut off, we’ve had a news blackout,” he told RFA. “We don’t know what’s going on in Yangon. We don’t know what’s going on in other cities. We have to call and ask relatives in the cities, and then spread the news to our friends in the neighborhood.”
A message posted on the Facebook page of PSI’s operations in Myanmar on Thursday said that the channels of Mizzima and DVB were temporarily suspended for the safety of the public. The DVB and Mizzima channels have been broadcasting news online since the military regime officially banned them from operating in March.
RFA was unable to reach PSI’s headquarters for comment.
“Now that they have totally cut off the internet, it is difficult for the international community to know what’s happening here,” said former lawmaker Aung May Yee from of National League for Democracy. “We have lost a lot of rights.”
Myanmar’s junta denied entry to the country on Friday to Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N.’s special envoy to Myanmar, who arrived in Bangkok to try to meet with regime leaders about the situation, Reuters news agency reported.
“Just arrived in BKK for talks,” Schraner Burgener tweeted. “I regret that Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] answered me yesterday that they are not ready to receive me. I am ready for dialogue. Violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.