Military junta forces fired rocket launchers and grenades to dismantle a protest camp in a city near Myanmar’s border with India Wednesday, killing 12 protesters in a region of northwest Myanmar where civilians have inflicted casualties on troops.
In a heavy crackdown that started before sunrise in the Sagaing region city of Kalay, security forces used heavy weaponry to smash the protester encampment dubbed “Fort Tahan” built to shield anti-coup demonstrators from gunfire by police and soldiers.
Witnesses said at least 12 local residents, including protesters, were killed, and many others were injured in Kalay. They were among at least 26 civilians killed Wednesday during nationwide crackdowns by Myanmar security forces on Wednesday, witnesses in various locations said.
“There are many wounded,” said a protester in Kalay, who declined to provide his name for safety reasons.
“They were shooting from two sides,” he said. “There were many trapped who could not escape the onslaught because [the military] had spread their forces across the town. They blocked the roads coming from villages in the south.”
“Some people were hit in the abdomen, some in the leg,” the protester added.
The rising number of casualties forced protesters to evacuate the makeshift protest barricade, giving soldiers and police a chance to clear the huge barrier with bulldozers, witnesses said.
Thought the military earlier had an agreement with the young protesters not to use force until 10 a.m., it began strengthening its forces at about 4 a.m. and launched the attack an hour later, residents said.
At least 25 protesters in Kalay (Kale), a city of 400,000 people, have died at the hands of security forces since the military seized power in the Feb. 1 coup. In Sagaing’s Tamu, north of Kalay, 14 soldiers were killed over the weekend in attacks by protesters, local media reported Monday.
There have been nearly 600 deaths since the military junta took over and deposed the democratically elected government of country leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar human rights organization based in Thailand, said that as of Wednesday, nearly 2,850 people were currently under detention by the military regime.
Shootings in southern Shan state
In Nyaungshwe township of southern Shan state, security forces entered the town Tuesday night following an electricity cutoff, killing one man, critically injuring another person, and wounding about 10 people, residents said in Facebook posts.
Residents banged pots to register their resistance as police and troops came in cursing and yelling, they said. When the locals went outside to confront them on the streets, the forces opened fire, killing 20-year-old Taing Chitthu with a shot to the head.
A man named Paw Kauk also died from a shot to the head as he attended a funeral wake in Lweliyang village in Kachin state’s Mogaung township, witnesses said. A second man, Min Thu, was hit in the thigh, they said.
“The shots were single shots and took place when the men went outside to look after stones were thrown at their houses from the front. The sound of the gunshots was not too loud,” a resident said.
In the town of Myingyan in Mandalay region, a man was shot in the arm near an electric power office when soldiers and police fired indiscriminately into two residential wards, said local sources, who added that the shots came from the town’s marketplace and State High School No. 4.
Explosions were heard in five locations in the commercial center and largest city Yangon on Wednesday, with two blasts in the morning near a housing estate for military families on Shwe Dagon Pagoda and Ziwaka Roads, local residents said.
The three later blasts occurred in front of the Sanchaung township administrator’s office, the Dagon Center in Myaynigone, and near the Port Authority Office on Strand Road. It is still unknown whether there were any casualties, they said.
In the Bay of Bengal southwest of the strife-torn country of 54 million people, naval forces of the “Quad” grouping of the United States, Australia, Japan, and India on Monday launched a three-day joint military exercise, joined by two French naval vessels, the U.S. government said.
At the same time, the Myanmar military held a naval exercise on April 4 within country’s Bay of Bengal waters, while China and Russia warned against international intervention in Myanmar’s crisis. Beijing and Moscow have joined U.N. criticism of the coup but blocked efforts to impose sanction on the junta.
“On one hand, you can say it’s a coincidence, but on the other hand, there’s a question about why this is so coincidental,” said Htin Linn Aung of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), Myanmar’s shadow government of democratically elected lawmakers.
“It’s very difficult to say exactly because America, when it conducts an exercise like this, doesn’t declare it so loudly,” he said. “But now we can say that this is a remarkable event.”
Warning against ‘improper intervention’
Miemie Winn Byrd, a Honolulu-based Asia-Pacific security analyst and retired Burmese-American colonel in the U.S. Army, said China, a major investor in Myanmar, should change its stance and play a positive role to prevent further violence.
The U.S. “has repeatedly asked China to come along with the international community to speak with one voice to ask for the Myanmar military to stop [and] prevent the killing of unarmed civilians, to release all detainees — the political prisoners — and to respect the voices of the Myanmar people,” she told RFA.
“That is more likely to stop the action than what China has been doing at this moment,” she added.
Earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Southeast Asian nations to be on the alert for external forces interfering in Myanmar’s internal affairs and said efforts should be made to stop the escalation of tensions.
At a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China has appealed for efforts to avoid further bloodshed, conflicts, and civilian casualties in Myanmar, and to prevent the situation from further deterioration.
Repeating comments made earlier by Wang Yi, he said that “improper intervention” by the U.N. Security Council should be avoided so as to not undermine Myanmar’s sovereignty and make the situation worse.
The spokesman also said that moves by “some external forces to add fuel to the flames and mess up Myanmar in pursuit of selfish gains” should be avoided, in an apparent reference to countries like the U.S. that have imposed sanctions on Myanmar military officials and entities.
On April 2, senior U.N. officials condemned ongoing violence by Myanmar’s security forces against civilians, including children, as the members of the Security Council expressed alarm at the quickly worsening situation in the country.
Southeast Asian leaders announced Monday that they would meet in Jakarta, Indonesia, to discuss the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, but did not set a date.
Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, warned on March 31 during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the situation in Myanmar that that the unlawful shooting of protesters by security forces could result in civil war and a “bloodbath.”
She also called for collective action in addressing the crisis “to prevent a multi-dimensional catastrophe in the heart of Asia.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Originally published by Radio Free Asia.