Shots Fired in Northern Myanmar City Amid Signs of Deeper Crackdown on Protests

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Shots Fired in Northern Myanmar City Amid Signs of Deeper Crackdown on Protests An armored vehicle drives pasto the Sule Pagoda, following days of mass protests against the military coup, in Yangon, Feb. 14, 2021.

UPDATED at 6:50 P.M. ET on 02-14-2021

Security forces fired guns to disperse protesters at a power plant in northern Myanmar on Sunday, as tanks and armored vehicles patrolled the streets of the country’s largest city and an overnight internet shutdown kicked in after days of nationwide mass protests against the two-week-old military junta.

The gunfire, livestreamed by protesters on Facebook, came after forces had turned a water cannon on hundreds of mostly young men who were chanting and beating oil drums outside a power plant in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina. The barrages lasted several minutes at a time, but it was not clear if the bullets were rubber or live ammunition or if any protesters were hurt.

A fire and power outage, as well as some shots fired by troops, were also reported in Thanlyin, a major port city near the commercial capital Yangon, by residents writing on Facebook. The accounts said army troops had surrounded a power station at Thanlyin, but that there were no clashes.

In recent days, peaceful demonstrations in the big cities of Yangon, Mandalay, and the capital Naypyidaw have topped six figures, and large crowds again turned out Sunday, the 14th day since the army arrested leader Aung San Suu Kyi, suspended parliament, and imposed a one-year period of emergency rule.

Signs emerged Sunday, however, that the junta is preparing a tougher crackdown on opponents of the Feb. 1 seizure of power by the army over claims that Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party’s landslide win in last November’s election was fraudulent.

Army tanks and armored vehicles were seen by RFA reporters Sunday night on the streets of Yangon, the country’s largest city.

After days of reports about a looming internet shutdown and continuing restrictions on access to Facebook and other social media, Myanmar’s telecoms firms on Sunday announced an eight-hour internet outage from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday

Ooredoo Myanmar informed mobile phone users that the junta had ordered an eight-hour internet clampdown, while Telenor Myanmar also announced that it was ordered to cut internet and data services.

A tank vehicle is deployed on a city street, following days of mass protests against the military coup, in Yangon, Feb. 14, 2021. Credit: AFP
A tank vehicle is deployed on a city street, following days of mass protests against the military coup, in Yangon, Feb. 14, 2021. Credit: AFP
Junta changes laws

Accounts of the impending Internet cut-off and of a steady stream of arrests of civil servants who joined protests were spreading widely on social media among broad community of junta opponents who call themselves the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Another development that pointed to a crackdown was the army’s reinstatement late on Saturday of a law requiring people to report overnight visitors to their homes, allowed security forces to detain suspects and search private property without court approval. The junta also ordered the arrest of well-known backers of mass protests.

The junta also released amendments to sections of the country's penal code to triple prison terms to 20 years for acts against the state or government, including seditious activities, calls for war against Myanmar, armed insurrection, collaboration with domestic and foreign actors to overthrow state institutions.

The amendments also added a new clause criminalizing incitement and agitation of a civil servant, charges that could be deployed against protest leaders who drew tens of thousands of government workers to join anti-coup marches. Doctors and government staff were arrested in police raids across the country of 54 million people on Friday.

Ambassadors to Myanmar from the EU, U.S., Britain, Canada and others on Sunday condemned the coup, the subsequent arrests, and the communications restrictions.

"We call on security forces to refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians, who are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government,” the envoys said in a joint statement.

Shelter in place

The U.S. Embassy in Yangon warned Americans in the country to stay at home during nightly curfew hours.

“There are indications of military movements in Yangon and the possibility of telecommunications interruptions overnight between 1:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. U.S. citizens in Burma are advised to shelter-in-place during the 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. curfew hours,” it said on Twitter.

“The civil disobedience movement and demonstrations show that the people of Myanmar want democracy. We stand with them.”

After Sunday’s clash in Myitkyina, five Myanmar journalists were arrested by the army, including two who were broadcasting live coverage of the protests, the news outlets said.  Two journalists from 74 Media, and one each from Mizzima News, the Eternal Peace Network and Eleven Media are in custody, they said.

Despite an overnight curfew, neighborhoods in major cities have been forming what local media called "vigilante groups" to guard against an influx of strangers behaving suspiciously, residents told RFA.

There is growing belief that the junta has deployed criminals released from prison to commit arson and other mischief to scare civilians. Several people seen as trespassers were detained in Mandalay and Yangon, the residents said.

"Upon roundups by neighborhood residents, some were found with large amounts of cash or were under the influence of drugs. Most of them couldn’t give proper reasons for their late night behavior," the online Irrawaddy news outlet said Sunday.

"Given the arrival of the thugs and rampant rumors, people feared that the junta was reviving an old, nasty tactic used by its predecessor 33 years ago during the popular democracy uprising in 1988 when provocateurs were dispatched to wreak havoc," the news site wrote.

On Friday U.N. rights officials said they were tracking more than 350 politicians, state officials, activists, civil society members, journalists, monks, and students who have been taken into custody.

The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Myanmar watchdog group, said Sunday that, as of Feb. 12, 400 people have been arrested, of whom 25 were released. But it said the detainees' location and condition, and the charges they faced were not known.

Sunday's gunfire came as supporters held a candlelight vigil near Yangon City Hall for a 20-year-old protester in the capital Naypyidaw who was shot in the head during protests on Feb. 9. The family of Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing, who has been declared brain dead, agreed to have her taken off life support, though a doctor at the hospital where she is being treated said that physicians were told not to take her off the machine just yet.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.


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