Myanmar security forces have shot and killed more than 80 people in a brutal crackdown that protest organizers say was like “genocide.”
Reports emerged on Saturday that security forces fired rifle grenades at protesters during a brutal crackdown in the city of Bago, near Yangon.
By Saturday evening, monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) confirmed “over 80 anti-coup protesters were killed by security forces in Bago on Friday.”
“They piled up all the dead bodies, loaded them into their army truck and drove it away,” AFP quoted a resident as saying that authorities had refused to let rescue workers near the bodies.
“It is like genocide,” Myanmar Now news outlet quoted a protest organizer, Ye Htut as saying. “They are shooting at every shadow.”
Following the bloodshed, medical treatment had been “denied’ to the injured, according to the United Nations office in Myanmar.
“We call on the security forces to allow medical teams to treat the wounded,” it said in a tweet on Saturday.
The latest fatalities in Bago brought the death toll to 618, according to the AAPP.
That figure, however, was disputed by the military, which put the number at 248.
Soldiers randomly shoot at protesters
Protests were also held on Saturday in the northwestern town of Tamu, near the Myanmar-India border, where people fought back when soldiers tried to tear down barricades erected to protect their community.
Soldiers started randomly shooting at protesters, killing at least two civilians, said a local.
She said that protesters were also retaliating by throwing a bomb that exploded and overturned a military truck, killing over a dozen soldiers.
“Some are in hiding — we are worried that our people will be hurt as a reprisal” she told AFP, adding that all Tamu’s residents are calling for is “down with the dictatorship.”
Unrest also erupted Saturday in northern Shan State, as Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic rebel group, mounted a pre-dawn attack on a police station, according to local media.
At least 10 policemen were killed in the attack, it said.
The Southeast Asian country has been convulsed by mass rallies and strikes since the military ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, and arrested her and several other political leaders over election fraud allegations.
Military court sentences 19 protesters to die
In the meantime, state-run media announced that a military court sentenced19 people to die for “robbery and murder.”
Seventeen of the defendants were tried in absentia.
An international human rights group condemned junta for the death penalties, saying, “It indicates the military are prepared to go back to a time when Myanmar was executing people.”
The county has not carried out an execution in over 30 years, although it has had the death penalty in its penal code, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch.
He said that trying cases in a military court means there can be no appeals, and there are “no guarantees of a free and fair trial in any way, shape or form.”
The death sentences could be a tactic to force protesters off the streets and back to work, Robertson said.
“Their core mission is to use force and violence to get everybody off the streets and to break apart the (civil disobedience movement),” he added.
UN urged to take action
In another development, Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN Kyaw Moe Tun called on a Security Council meeting on Friday to take action.
“Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” he said, proposing a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions against members of the military.
An independent analyst with the International Crisis Group, also warned the council that Myanmar was “at the brink of state failure.”
“(The junta’s) actions may be creating a situation where the country becomes ungovernable,” said Richard Horsey.
Ousted Myanmar lawmakers also urged the Council on Friday to apply both direct and indirect pressure on the junta.
“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.
International powers have sought to slap sanctions on the Myanmarese military as its forces, but Russia warned earlier that punitive measures could spark a full-blown civil war in the country.