The Group of Seven industrial democracies on Tuesday condemned the Myanmar military regime’s use of violence against protesters rejecting the coup that deposed the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi more than three weeks ago, while the U.S. slapped sanctions on two junta generals.
As protests against the Feb. 1 military takeover continued to fill the streets of Myanmar cities, the G7 foreign ministers and the European Union’s top envoy said the military and the police must exercise restraint and respect human rights and international law.
“We condemn the intimidation and oppression of those opposing the coup,” said the G7 and the EU’s high representative in a joint statement. “We raise our concern at the crackdown on freedom of expression, including through the internet blackout and draconian changes to the law that repress free speech.”
The nations said that the “systematic targeting of protesters, doctors, civil society, and journalists must stop” and that the state of emergency that the military declared in order to seize power must be revoked.
They also called for the immediate release of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other officials who have been detained since the takeover and not heard from much since.
The G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. — and the EU took the military regime to task for using live ammunition against peaceful protesters.
“Use of live ammunition against unarmed people is unacceptable,” their statement said. “Anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account.”
Security forces have used live ammunition against protesters, killing at least four people and injuring dozens of others. One protester shot in the head in Naypyidaw on Feb. 9 died in a hospital, while two others hit by gunfire during a rally in Mandalay on Feb. 21 also died. A night watchman was shot dead by police in Yangon.
A Myanmar policeman watches protesters near the Indonesian Embassy in Yangon, Feb. 23, 2021. Credit: RFA
U.S. imposes more sanctions
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken late on Monday announced sanctions on Gen. Maung Maung Kyaw and Lt. Gen. Moe Myint Tun, two members of the State Administration Council, the formal name of the junta.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on 10 current and retired top-ranking leaders in Myanmar’s military, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The military chief was already facing U.S. restrictions imposed in December 2019 over his role in the brutal 2017 crackdown on minority Rohingya Muslims.
“The United States will continue to work with a broad coalition of international partners to promote accountability for coup leaders and those responsible for this violence,” he said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to take further action against those who perpetrate violence and suppress the will of the people.”
Blinken also repeated earlier U.S. condemnation of the coup, attacks on unarmed protesters, and arrests and detentions of hundreds of politicians, rights defenders and protesters.
“The United States, in close coordination with our partners and allies, has underscored to the military that violence against the people is unacceptable,” he said.
Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, under junta control, issued a statement Monday slamming widespread foreign criticism of the killings as “tantamount to flagrant interference in internal affairs of Myanmar.”
The State Administration Council is “exerting utmost efforts for peace, stability, unity and [the] socioeconomic development of the country and people,” the statement said.
Nearly 140 rights groups and civil society organizations issued an open letter to the U.N. Security Council and individual U.N. member states calling for a coordinated global arms embargo on Myanmar in response to the military coup.
The resolution should bar all supplies, sales, or transfers of weapons, munitions, and equipment, including vehicles, communications, and surveillance equipment, as well as the provision of training, intelligence, and other military assistance, the statement said.
“Until the Council acts, individual U.N. member states should adopt measures at the national and regional levels to block sales and other transfers of weapons and materiel to Myanmar, with the goal of extending an arms embargo to as close to a global scale as possible,” it said.
A Myanmar anti-junta protester raises her fist during a demonstration at the Myae Ni Gone junction in Yangon, Feb. 23, 2021. Credit: RFA
Protesters hit the streets again
A day after Monday’s mass nationwide “22222” campaign drew the largest crowd in three weeks of protests in defiance of threats of lethal reaction from the army, demonstrators were out on the streets again in the country of 54 million people.
On Tuesday, authorities released more than 200 protesters detained in the capital Naypyidaw and freed some of the demonstrators detained Monday in the far-south Tanintharyi region.
Those released in the capital include 150 men and 60 women, all of whom are students, schoolteachers, engineers, civil servants and local residents. Among those who remain in custody is NGO worker Nay Myat Thu, though it is unclear whether other detainees are civil servants or students, said an attorney who declined to give his name.
“We only have their names and no other details,” he said. “We’ve heard that they will appear in Zabuthiri Court this afternoon, but they have not arrived yet.”
RFA was unable to reach Naypyidaw police for an update on those being held.
In Myeik, a town in Tanintharyi region, police raided homes Monday night looking for protest leaders and took away family members if they did not find them, witnesses said.
“They came between 10 p.m. and midnight,” said a city resident. “Police raided Hla Maw’s house and when they didn’t find him, they took away his nephew. And the other is Min Lwin Oo. Because they could not find the father, they took away his son.”
In nearby Kalwin village, police detained the daughter of a ward administrator when they could not find him.
Hla Maw, for whom a warrant had been issued by police, told RFA that all three had been released.
“They were all released after being lectured,” he said. “Some parents asked the police if it was in accordance with the law to just come into the house and take away people, and they said they can do whatever they want if people refuse to open their doors when asked.”
RFA could not reach authorities for comment.
Myanmar police patrol a street near the US Embassy in Yangon, Feb. 23, 2021. Credit: RFA
‘Bullying by those with weapons’
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group, said that as of Monday, 684 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the military coup since Feb. 1, with 637 still being held.
Aung Myo Kyaw of the AAPP said it is unacceptable for authorities to arrest the family members of protesters if they cannot find the person they want.
“Taking away family members because they cannot not find the person they want is just like kidnapping,” he said.
Veteran lawyer Khin Maung Zaw also said that police had no authority to detain the relatives of protesters.
“There is no such law that a family member can be arrested because the person they are looking for is not found,” he said.
“Frankly speaking, this is just bullying by those who have weapons,” he added.
In Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, police on early Tuesday closed off access to the main avenues around the Sule Pagoda, a popular rallying place. Scores of officers guarded the scene, while thousands of protesters held anti-coup rallies on Bogyoke Aung San Road and at the Hledan and Myae Ni Gone junctions.
Police also closed down roads leading to foreign embassies, though protesters managed to hold a demonstration in front of the Indonesian Embassy to show their opposition to reported ASEAN agreement on a plan of action to hold the Myanmar junta to its pledge of conducting elections a year after seizing power.
An Indonesian diplomat who spoke with protesters told them that the country’s foreign minister was trying to have discussions with his counterparts in ASEAN member states to help find a solution.
A Myanmar anti-junta protester demonstrates in front of the Indonesian Embassy in Yangon, Feb. 23, 2021. Credit: RFA
Civil society groups provide assistance
In Myitkyina, capital of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, a woman was injured when soldiers from a passing military truck fired pellets from slingshots at protesters who marched around the city in opposition to the military takeover.
In Mandalay, huge rallies continued on the main streets while tens of thousands of residents attended a funeral for Min Min who was killed by police gunfire on Feb. 20. His widow urged those present to continue the civil disobedience movement against the junta. The funeral of another protester who was shot and killed the same day was held Monday in nearby Myitnge, his home town.
Thousands of people from all walks of life took part in similar rallies in the towns of Mawlamyine, Magway, Bagan, Pathein, Lashio, Loikaw, Kawkareik, and Hpa-an. Regional government offices and banks were heavily guarded by police and soldiers, though no incidents or arrests were reported.
As they protest against the military dictatorship, demonstrators and striking civil servants increasingly are facing financial difficulties, with some receiving assistance from donors and civil society groups that provide cash, transportation, and food at protest sites.
Groups and individuals are handing out food, bottled water, soft drinks, and envelopes with small amount of cash to the demonstrators, while drivers offer free rides to the suburbs, protesters said.
“We will go on fighting,” said a schoolteacher in Hpa-an participating in the civil disobedience movement. “We have prepared ourselves mentally, and we believe we will get material support from the people.”
Protester Yan Naing Aung from Mayangon township in Yangon region said the demonstrators would help out each other.
“Some businesses may have shut down, and some people will not have any income,” he said. “We have collected some funds in advance, and we are hoping for assistance from overseas. We can go on for two or three months.”
A food and drink donor in Yangon pledged to provide support to young people who are demonstrating against the military dictatorship.
“No matter how long it goes on, we will try our utmost to give assistance to these young fighters,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.