In Myanmar, Hardened Troops are Using Battlefield Arms on Peaceful Protesters-Amnesty Report

By Paul Eckert
In Myanmar, Hardened Troops are Using Battlefield Arms on Peaceful Protesters-Amnesty Report Army soldiers intervene during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, March 2, 2021. Picture taken from behind a window.

Myanmar’s junta is deploying army divisions notorious for atrocities who are turning battlefield weapons on unarmed protesters in a deliberate escalation of violence in the five weeks since the Feb. 1 military takeover, Amnesty International said in a report published Wednesday. 

The London-based rights watchdog surveyed videos from nine days of increasingly violent attacks on anti-coup protesters and found troops using military weapons inappropriate for policing, indiscriminately spraying live ammunition in urban areas, and even making a sport of shooting protesters.

“The weaponry deployed by the Tatmadaw reveals a deliberate and dangerous escalation in tactics,” said Joanne Mariner, Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International.

“Not content with indiscriminately using less-lethal weapons, each new day shows an apparent order to deploy semi-automatic rifles, sniper rifles, and light machine guns in increasing numbers,” she added.

“Make no mistake, we are in a deadly new phase of the crisis.”

Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab reviewed and verified 55 video clips filmed between Feb. 28 and March 8 by citizens and local media in cities including Dawei, Mandalay, Mawlamyine, Monywa, Myeik, Myitkyina and Yangon.

Myanmar army 2.jpg
Army soldiers move in to disperse protesters during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, March 7, 2021

'Extrajudicial executions'

The lab “verified multiple clips showing lethal force is being used in a planned, premeditated and coordinated manner,” said the report.

“Many of the killings documented amount to extrajudicial executions,” it said.

As of March 9, 58 protesters and others had been killed since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, according to an RFA tally.

The review identified security forces wielding military firearms, including Chinese RPD light machine guns, as well as Myanmar-made MA-S sniper rifles, MA-1 semi-automatic rifles, Uzi-replica BA-93 and BA-94 submachine guns.

Other weapons turned on demonstrators include South Korean Dae Kwang DK-44 flashbang grenades, as well as less-lethal “pepperball” launchers, shotguns loaded with rubber bullets manufactured by the Turkish company Zsr Patlayici Sanayi A.S., using cartridges from Franco-Italian company Cheddite, it said.

Incidents discovered and confirmed by Amnesty from the videos included:

  • A commander standing over an officer operating a sniper rifle, appearing to order him to direct fire towards specific protesters in Sanchaung township in Yangon on March 2.
  • Officers leading a man towards a larger group of security forces, when an officer suddenly shoots the man, who was not resisting, in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township on March 3.
  • A soldier appears to lend his rifle to a police officer deployed alongside him, who aims and shoots, while officers standing with them celebrate, in Dawei, on Feb. 28.
  • Security forces riding pick-up trucks and indiscriminately firing live ammunition in multiple directions, including into residences, in Mawlamyine in Mon state, on March 1.

 “These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions,” said Mariner.

 “These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open,” she added, referring to army atrocities in wars with ethnic militias in border regions.

Ethnic minorities including the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Rakhine, Rohingya, Shan, Ta’ang – many of which have been at war with the central government for decades – “have borne the brunt of horrific violence meted out by the Tatmadaw,” said Mariner, using the Burmese name for the feared military.

Amnesty’s review of the videos also showed military divisions implicated in earlier atrocities against ethnic groups were operating in major cities across Myanmar, where tens or hundreds of thousands of anti-junta protesters have turned out since the military deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1 

Among these, the 33rd, 77th and 101st Light Infantry Divisions (LID) are seen operating with, and sometimes lending their weapons to, police officers, in Mandalay, Yangon and Monywa, respectively.

“All three cities have seen extreme instances of excessive force, including killings, by security forces in recent days,” the report said.

“Some of these military divisions are notorious for atrocities and serious human rights violations committed in Rakhine, Kachin, and northern Shan States,” said the report.

The 33rd LID has been implicated in war crimes in northern Shan State in 2016 and 2017, and in crimes against humanity in the campaign that drove 740,000   Rohingya Muslims out of western Rakhine state to Bangladesh in 2017, it said.

Myanmar is on trial at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands for the Rohingya expulsion.

“These Myanmar military tactics are far from new, but their killing sprees have never before been livestreamed for the world to see,” said Mariner. 

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