A protester holds a placard as people rally against the military coup, in Yangon on February 20 [Stringer/Reuters]
International condemnation of Myanmar’s military rulers is growing after security forces opened fire on anti-coup protesters in the second largest city of Mandalay, killing at least two people and wounding dozens more.
Facebook deleted the main page of Myanmar’s military for inciting violence on Sunday, while Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, joined the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Singapore in denouncing the shootings at a shipyard in Mandalay.
A representative for Facebook said the page of the military’s True News Information Team Page was taken down for “repeated violations” of its community standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm.
The move came as protesters returned to the streets of cities and towns across Myanmar, demanding an end to military rule and the release of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, seized power on February 1 after alleging fraud in an election that returned Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power last November. The takeover, which came a decade after the end of nearly 50 years of strict military rule, has prompted a general strike and huge protests across the Southeast Asian nation.
Members of ethnic minorities, poets, rappers and transport workers marched on Saturday in various places, but tension escalated quickly in Mandalay where police and soldiers fired live rounds at striking workers at Mandalay’s Yadanabon dock.
One victim was shot in the head and died immediately, according to the Frontier Myanmar magazine, while another was shot in the chest and died en route to the hospital. An emergency worker told AFP news agency that 30 others had been wounded, with half of the injuries caused by live rounds.
Thomas Andrews, the UN special Rapporteur for Myanmar, said he had received reports that the Tatmadaw’s 33rd Light Infantry Division was involved in the shootings. That unit was responsible for the campaign of mass killings, rape, and arson that forced 730,000 members of the Rohingya ethnic minority into Bangladesh in 2017.
Andrews called the shootings “a dangerous escalation by the junta in what appears to be a war against the people of Myanmar”.
The 33rd Light Infantry Division was reportedly involved in the lethal attacks in Mandalay today – the same division responsible for mass atrocity crimes against the Rohingya in 2017. A dangerous escalation by the junta in what appears to be a war against the people of Myanmar.
— UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews (@RapporteurUn) February 20, 2021
Following the shootings, Guterres, the UN chief, repeated his call for a return to civilian rule urging all parties in Myanmar to respect the results of the November election.
“The use of lethal force, intimidation and harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable,” he said in a tweet.
“Everyone has a right to peaceful assembly.”
The US, UK, France and Singapore have all expressed concern, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab threatening “further action” and the Singaporean foreign ministry calling the shootings “inexcusable”.
“We strongly urge the security forces to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further injuries and loss of lives, and take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and restore calm,” Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding: “If the situation continues to escalate, there will be serious adverse consequences for Myanmar and the region.”
The shooting of peaceful protesters in Myanmar is beyond the pale. We will consider further action, with our international partners, against those crushing democracy & choking dissent.
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) February 20, 2021
In addition to the UK, the US, Canada and New Zealand have announced targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
But the Tatmadaw has so far ignored calls for a return to civilian rule. It said it will hold new elections, but has not specified a timeframe.
European Union foreign ministers will meet Monday to discuss their own measures against the military.
The bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also urged security forces to “immediately stop violence against civilians” after the crackdown in Mandalay.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand, said it was not yet clear if Saturday’s shooting was intended as a “warning shot to protesters across the country or if this is the start of a much wider crackdown”.
“The campaign of civil disobedience appears to be having a fairly profound impact – people are refusing to go to their jobs and that’s affecting the transport systems and the banking systems particularly badly,” he said.
“We understand that the railways in Yangon are now effectively shut down. We’ve heard that flight schedules for domestic flights in Myanmar have closed down, with pilots refusing to turn up. Many civil servants are not going in to work, and while this is a huge problem for the general public, it is also a major problem for the military.
“It seems most people are determined to put up with these discomforts if it forces out the military. That is going to push the military into a corner, where they will either have to come out fighting or they will have to back down.”
The killings on Saturday came a day after a young woman who was shot in the head during a protest on February 9 in the capital, Naypyidaw, died from her wounds.
A funeral for Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who turned 20 last Thursday as she lay unconscious in a hospital bed, is set to take place in the capital Naypyidaw later on Sunday.
A policeman who sustained injuries during a protest has also died, according to the Tatmadaw.
Nearly 570 people have been detained since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
Aung San Suu Kyi – who has not been seen since she was detained in a dawn raid – has been hit with two charges by the new military government, one of them for possessing unregistered walkie-talkies.
Her hearing is expected on March 1.