YANGON: Reports emerged on Saturday of more than 80 killed in the latest bloodletting by Myanmar’s military, as the country’s own ambassador to the United Nations called for “strong action” against the junta.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February. After over two months of military rule, efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been greatly curtailed by the junta’s throttling of mobile data within the country — shunting most of the population into an information blackout.
Details of a brutal crackdown in the city of Bago, 65 kilometres northeast of Yangon, took a full day to emerge, as residents spoke of continued violence from the junta which pushed them to flee to nearby villages.
By Saturday evening, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners — a local monitoring group tracking deaths — confirmed “over 80 anti-coup protesters were killed by security forces in Bago on Friday”.
Verified footage shot early on Friday showed protesters hiding behind sandbag barricades wielding homemade rifles, as explosions could be heard in the background.
Authorities had refused to let rescue workers near the bodies, said a resident. “They piled up all the dead bodies, loaded them into their army truck and drove it away,” he said.
State-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Saturday blamed the crackdown on “rioters”, and reported only one dead.
The violence in Bago will add to AAPP’s current death toll of 618 civilians killed since the coup.
The junta has a far lower number — 248, according to a spokesman on Friday — and has branded the victims as “violent terrorist people”.
Despite the daily bloodshed, protesters have continued to take to the streets, with demonstrators highlighting their discontent in pointedly creative ways.
In commercial hub Yangon, crimson paint — representing the blood already spilled — was splashed across the streets near the historic Shwedagon Pagoda.
“Let us unite and boldly show in red that the dictatorial regime will not be allowed to rule us at all,” a student activist announced on Facebook.
Flyers with the words “They will not rule us” were scattered across Yangon neighbourhoods.
“Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” Myanmar’s Ambassador to the UN Kyaw Moe Tun told a Security Council meeting on Friday, proposing a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions against members of the military.
“Please, please take action,” he said.
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.
China and Russia wield veto power at the Security Council and generally oppose international sanctions. But Beijing — the top ally of Myanmar’s military — has voiced growing concern about instability, and has said it is speaking to “all parties”.
There have been reports that China has opened contact with the CRPH, a group representing the ousted civilian government.