Youths Slain in Mandalay Protests Underscore Dangers to Myanmar Children

2021-03-22
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Youths Slain in Mandalay Protests Underscore Dangers to Myanmar Children The mother (C) of a 15-year-old boy killed by Myanmar security forces grieves during his funeral in Mandalay, Mar. 22, 2021.
RFA

A 15-year-old boy and three adults were killed and more than 40 others were injured in a crackdown on anti-coup protests by security forces Monday in Myanmar’s second-largest city, amid warnings of increasing danger to children after seven weeks of harsh military rule, witnesses and charity groups helping the wounded said.

The killings in Mandalay came a day after at least three people, including another teenage boy, were killed, and about 25 others were wounded amid violence by police and soldiers in residential areas of the city, a major stage of protests rejecting the Feb. 1 coup that deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian government.

Besides targeting children among the protesters, security forces have been occupying more than 60 schools and universities in nearly all of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions, according to a joint statement issued March 19 by Save the Children, UNICEF, and UNESCO.

“These incidents mark a further escalation of the current crisis and represent a serious violation of the rights of children,” the statement said. “Schools must be not used by security forces under any circumstances.”

Police and soldiers also have forced children to perform labor by removing sandbags and other makeshift barricades set up by protesters, witnesses said.

Sunday’s melee in Mandalay began during a dispute between security forces and residents who were ordered to remove road barricades placed by anti-junta protesters days earlier, locals said. When six people were arrested, residents demanded they be released.

“Soon after that we heard some gunshots,” said a resident who did not provide a name. “I didn’t see the shooting, but I heard the shots from the other street. They brought in two more truckloads of police for reinforcement, who came into the streets challenging people to come out if they dared and said that they’d shoot. But nobody went out.”

After security forces left the ward at about 2 p.m., a fight erupted in another area with gunfire heard from 5 p.m. until midnight, locals said. It is unknown if there were casualties.

“We were worried they might show up again in our ward, but nothing happened,” the resident said. “We went to bed very late, and the next morning at about 9 a.m., they came in with bulldozers and guns blazing. No warnings were given.”

The sound of automatic weapons fired at about 10 p.m. could be heard on cell-phone videos sent in by citizen journalists.

Despite the gunfire, residents in some wards held protests at dawn on Monday to avoid confrontations with police and soldiers.

More than 230 people have been killed nationwide since the military seized control of the government on Feb. 1.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a watchdog group, said that as of Monday, 2,682 people had been arrested, charged, or sentenced in relation to the military coup, with 2,302 still being held or with outstanding warrants. The AAPP put the death toll at 261 people.

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Myanmar residents set free balloons calling for R2P, the Responsibility to Protect principle that seeks international help to stop mass atrocities, in Yangon's Hlaing township, as security forces continue to crack down on anti-junta protestors. Credit: AFP/anonymous source

Western sanctions, calls for 'R2P'

The European Union imposed sanctions Monday on 11 people linked to the coup, and according to Reuters news agency, the EU will further target companies funding or generating revenue for the Myanmar military.

"The number of murders has reached an unbearable extent, which is why we will not be able to avoid imposing sanctions,” the news agency quoted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas as saying as he arrived in Brussels for a meeting with his EU counterparts.

Also on Monday, Washington designated Myanmar Chief of Police Than Hlaing and Bureau of Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Aung Soe, as well as two army units, the 33rd and 77th Light Infantry Divisions, for freezes of U.S.-based assets and a ban on commercial relations with U.S. citizens.

“Under Than Hlaing’s leadership, the Burma Police Force has gone from attacking peaceful protesters with water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas, to using live ammunition,” said the U.S. Treasury Department in a statement.

Aung Soe's troops who attacked peaceful protesters “were armed with weapons meant for the battlefield, not police actions, demonstrating that lethal force is being used in a planned, premeditated, and coordinated manner against the anti-coup protests,” it added.

In the heart of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, people drove around in cars honking their horns to protest against the military. In Hlaing township, residents sent hundreds of red balloons into the sky calling for R2P — an appeal to the Responsibility to Protect norm that seeks international help to halt mass atrocities — to save the country.

Soldiers and police forced civilians, including children, to remove barricades, sandbags, and other road blocks set up by anti-junta protesters in residential areas of Yangon, residents told RFA Monday.

A local resident said a teenage boy watching security forces as they entered his ward caught the attention of police and soldiers as he ran away to hide.

“They threatened him to get him to come out,” the resident said. “He was told to join some other teens who were moving the sandbags. They were so young, and they couldn’t do the job.”

A resident of Yangon’s North Dagon township said that soldiers in military trucks arrived there at about 8 p.m. Sunday and tore down bamboo barricades the blocked the entrance to the street.

“They knocked down all the barriers and told residents through loudspeakers that North Dagon is a martial law area,” said the local who didn’t provide a name. “They said people must not bang pots and utensils or come out onto the streets. They said they would shoot anyone who violated the military’s rules.”

A resident of Yangon’s Tamwe told a similar story, saying that security forces came onto the street where he lives two days ago and destroyed three CCTV cameras.

“They came in again today and are now pulling down all the barricades,” he told RFA Monday. “They said they would shoot if they are set up again.”

Anti-junta organizers in Yangon say it’s a life-or-death challenge to hold nighttime protests or vigils for those killed, with security forces rampaging through the streets shouting, arresting, and shooting people.

Residents said it is nearly impossible to participate in evening demonstrations with police and soldiers coming into residential wards at night, shooting at random, raiding houses, and making arrests.

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A man runs past a road barricade and burning debris in Myanmar's second-largest city, Mandalay, March 22, 2021. Credit: Associated Press

NLD officials’ hearings begin

In the capital Naypyidaw, two detained lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and the local party chairman appeared in court for the first time Monday to face charges of state defamation and sedition for allegedly encouraging civil servants to join the civil disobedience movement, defense lawyers said.

The trio is being detained in Naypyidaw Prison, they said.

Naypyidaw region chairman Min Thu and lawmakers Min Thu and Kyaw Min Hlaing had hearings in three different township courts.

“Min Thu was brought to court at about 4:17 p.m., and his case was heard behind closed doors,” said an attorney representing the three men, who declined to be named. “Nobody except the court employees were allowed to go inside the courtroom.”

The next court date for the two lawmakers has been set for March 30, he said.

Cho Cho Aung, wife of Thant Zin Tun, said that she was allowed to talk to the legislator for about 15 minutes.

“He looks fine, and he asked for some religious books,” she said. “They only issued the remand today, and his transfer of power of attorney will be submitted to the court at the next hearing.”

Pa Pa Aung, wife of Kyaw Min Hlaing, said her husband told her not to worry about him.

“But it was sad to see him in handcuffs like that,” she added.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Myaung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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