March 07, 2021
Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger sign of resistance during a demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, March 6, 2021. (AP Photo)
By Margaret Besheer | VOA News
Police and security forces in several cities in Myanmar used force to disperse anti-coup protesters who returned to the streets Saturday, a day after a U.N. envoy urged the Security Council to take actions against the junta and for democracy to be restored.
Protests were reported in Yangon, where military units used stun grenades and tear gas against demonstrators. Eighteen people were reported killed there on Wednesday, bringing the number of people killed this week in the country to 50.
Protests also took place in several other cities, from north to south and east to west, where police and security forces also fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.
Late at night, residents told the Reuters news service, soldiers and police moved into several districts of Yangon, firing shots. They arrested at least three people in Kyauktada Township, residents there said. They did not know the reason for the arrests.
Reuters also reported that a member of the now-dissolved parliament, Sithu Maung, said on Facebook that soldiers were searching for a lawyer who worked for de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) but were unable to find him,
The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told the Security Council on Friday to remain united against the Myanmar military’s use of deadly force against protesters.
“The repression must stop,” Schraner Burgener told the closed-door meeting, according to a copy of her remarks shared with reporters.
“It is critical that this Council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results,” she said. Schraner Burgener warned, though, that the hope the people have placed in the United Nations and its members “is waning.”
Myanmar has been mired in chaos and violence for more than a month, since the military’s overthrow of the civilian government and the detentions of Suu Kyi and other high-ranking NLD officials. Military officials say widespread fraud occurred in last November’s election, which the NLD won in a landslide. However, the country’s elections officials deny any significant irregularities.
Soldiers and police have cracked down on demonstrators using live ammunition and rubber bullets, shooting indiscriminately into the crowds.
The envoy said Friday that in the past seven days, at least 50 “innocent and peaceful protesters” have been killed and scores more have been wounded.
She said as of March 2, the U.N. Office of Human Rights is aware of about 1,000 people who are either known to be in detention or unaccounted for after having been arbitrarily detained since the Feb. 1 coup.
“There is an urgency for collective action,” she told Security Council members. “How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?”
Schraner Burgener said the international community must make it clear that perpetrators of serious human rights violations will be held accountable.
“The right to life, the right to liberty and safety, the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly must be respected,” she said.
The special envoy, who has been in her job for three years and has spent a large part of her time in Myanmar, has been trying to arrange a trip back to the country to meet with military officials, detainees, civil society and protesters. Officials have told her the time is not right.
Schraner Burgener renewed her calls on the council to not lend legitimacy or recognition to the junta, urging the release of political detainees, and unhindered humanitarian access.
“I will continue my efforts in solidarity with the people of Myanmar,” she said. “Their hope will depend on unified support and action from the Security Council.”
Britain requested Friday’s council meeting. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters afterward that members are discussing what they can do in a unified manner.
“As the situation has deteriorated, I think it is right the council return and consider the next steps, and that is what we were discussing today,” she said.
Myanmar’s patron, China, explained its position. In a statement released to reporters, Ambassador Zhang Jun expressed support for the U.N. special envoy and Association of Southeast Asian Nations efforts to resolve the situation.
Beijing has said the matter is an internal one, but at the same time noted it is following developments “closely with great concern.”
“We don’t want to see instability, even chaos in Myanmar,” the Chinese ambassador said. “The military and various political parties are all members of the Myanmar family, and should all take up the historical responsibility of maintaining the country’s stability and development.”
He added that the parties should resolve problems peacefully and “exercise utmost calm restraint, refrain from intensifying tensions or using violence, and prevent any incident of bloodshed.”
On Feb. 4, the 15-nation Security Council issued a unanimous statement expressing its concern and calling for the release of Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and others. Council members also stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
Call for arms embargo grows
Separately, the U.N.’s human rights expert on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, called on the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo on the military.
“I urge the Council to take decisive and unified action against the military junta, including targeted sanctions, an arms embargo, and a referral to the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute atrocities committed since the coup on 1 February and those committed against ethnic groups in years prior,” he said in a statement.
He noted that 41 countries already have imposed arms embargoes on Myanmar’s military.
The committee representing the NLD legislators is also calling for “robust, targeted sanctions” and an arms embargo against the junta in a letter dated March 4 to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Human rights groups joined the call.
“No country should be selling a single bullet to the junta after its abuses against Myanmar’s people,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch.
“There is an acute and urgent need for a prompt, effective, independent and impartial investigation into shocking human rights violations across Myanmar, including the chain of command responsible for these egregious killings,” Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for research, Emerlynne Gil said. “The military leadership has calculated that they will get away with this; the international community needs to ensure that those calculations were wrong.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, a bipartisan U.S. congressional caucus on press freedom expressed its deep concern and called for the release of journalists arrested while covering the protests.
“As the people of Burma demonstrate in the wake of the military coup, it is vitally important that members of the media be allowed to do their jobs without fear of intimidation, arrest, or violence,” the caucus co-chairs said in a joint statement, referring to Myanmar by its older name, Burma. “The United States and the international community must be united in condemning the outrageous and violent response to peaceful protests and call on authorities to respect the rights of journalists to report freely.”