A Small City and a Spray of Bullets in Myanmar
As of Thursday, Myaing, a small town in central Myanmar, was best known for making thanaka, a bark that is ground as a refrigerated cosmetic.
But by the late morning of March 11th, the city, which can be traversed in 10 minutes, became synonymous with the brutality of the military that took power last month. Myaing’s rain-soaked streets were covered in blood as police officers shot at a group of unarmed civilians, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 20, according to witnesses and hospital officials.
U Myint Zaw Win was among the crowd that dispersed late that morning in front of Myaing’s police station with live ammunition shots. When he looked back, he saw a body, half of its head blown apart, on a street he had walked on all his life. He didn’t know whose body it was, but he said a bricklayer and a bus driver were among the dead.
“They shot people like birds,” Myint Zaw Win said of the police officers, some of whom he knows personally because Myaing is a small town where almost everyone knows each other.
“How can you switch from nonviolent police to monsters?” he added. “The world is upside down.”
Myint Zaw Win’s report of the carnage was confirmed by two other witnesses.
More than 70 people in Myanmar have been killed by security forces since the army staged its coup on February 1, ousting a civilian leadership and returning the country to the nightmare of full military rule.
While the bulk of the deaths were in large cities like Yangon and Mandalay, security forces have shot dead in at least 17 different cities across the country: Taungdwingyi, Myingyan, Salin, Kalay, Htee Lin and Pyapon, among others.
After analyzing more than 50 videos of such murders, Amnesty International concluded in a report released on Thursday that security forces were using battlefield weapons on protesters. In some cases, commanders ordered extrajudicial killings, Amnesty International said, while in other cases bullets were sprayed indiscriminately.
The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is called, has killed and persecuted the country’s citizens for decades. The worst attacks were reserved for ethnic minorities, such as Rohingya Muslims, whose persecution in international courts is condemned as genocide.
“These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officials who make bad decisions,” Joanne Mariner, director of crisis response at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “These are unrepentant commanders who are already involved in crimes against humanity and who use their troops and murderous methods in the open air.”
The fatal blow in Myanmar in recent weeks has shocked a population used to military massacres. Three people were shot dead in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Bago on Thursday. Another person who was shot dead in Myinchan City on March 3 also died from his injuries on Thursday.
Before the shots turned downtown Myaing into a battlefield on Thursday, residents in hard hats and motorcycle helmets had gathered daily to march against the military’s seizure of power last month. Residents were just as determined as those in larger metropolitan areas to speak out against the coup in which dozens of elected politicians, including civil leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were arrested.
On Thursday, a military spokesman accused Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi of illegally obtained 25 pounds of gold and about $ 600,000. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi heads the National League for Democracy, which won the last two elections by landslides. She has been charged with various other crimes that could have imprisoned her for years, including obscure violation of possession of foreign walkie talkies without proper import licenses.
Two days after the coup, residents of Myaing marched through the semi-paved streets demanding the return of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected officials. They have carried on every day since then. At least two youths from a local monastery were arrested Thursday and a crowd gathered at the police station to find out why. They sat in silent protest.
There was no warning that live ammunition was coming, witnesses said. The police refused to comment.
Around the same time, security forces in Yangon, the country’s largest city, fired at a crowd in North Dagon Township and hit Ko Chit Min Thu, a 25-year-old collector of recycled materials, in the head. He died almost instantly, said his relatives and other protesters.
Concerned that security forces would confiscate the body – as happened in Mandalay over the past few days and Thursday – other protesters carried Mr. Chit Min Thu out of the firing zone.
His body was back home by early afternoon and mourners began to gather. A bandage covered his fatal head wound. His widow, Ma Aye Chan Myint, was thrilled to have her two-year-old son by her side. She is pregnant in her first trimester.
“Why didn’t they just shoot on the legs, why did they shoot in the head?” She asked. There was no answer.
Ms. Aye Chan Myint reached out to touch the feet and face of her husband, who protested every day in hopes that a surge in civilian strength might somehow oust the military from power.
“You said I should be proud,” she said to her husband’s body. “I’m proud of you, my love.”