In what has become the bloodiest day since the military seized power on 1 February, at least 38 civilians were killed after Myanmar security forces opened fire on peaceful protestors across the country. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the thousands across towns and cities in Myanmar since the military coup and its ousting and detaining of the people’s elected government leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Police and soldiers alike have recently intensified their response, using tear gas, flashbangs, and now live ammunition on protestors. Photographs and video footage from Wednesday, March 3rd, show demonstrators running to take cover as bodies lie in the streets. Security forces were seen chasing down protestors and even ordering an ambulance crew to exit their vehicle at gunpoint and kneel before brutally beating them with rifle butts.
For weeks, protestors have demanded the return of the country’s democracy and for the release of its elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. In November elections, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won a landslide victory, a victory in which military leaders claim large scale voter fraud but have yet to provide any proof.
“Today it was the bloodiest day since the coup happened on Feb. 1. We have today — only today — 38 people died. We have now more than over 50 people died since the coup started,” and many more are wounded, according to U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman read in a statement, “The use of lethal force against peaceful protestors and arbitrary arrests is unacceptable,” and has urged the international community to, “send a clear signal to the military that it must respect the will of the people in Myanmar as expressed through the election and stop the repression.”
Additionally, last week at the United Nations headquarters in New York, diplomatic tensions further unfolded over who represents Myanmar since the coup. In an emotional speech during the General Assembly meeting, the country’s ambassador, Kyaw More Tun, denounced the generals for their military coup and said he represents the nation’s civilian government. He also called for other countries to help end the coup by “any means necessary” and raised the three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance borrowed from “The Hunger Games” films.
Kyaw Moe Tun would be dismissed one day later by the military junta. The deputy ambassador to replace him, U Tin Maung Naing, would resign upon being named by the military to fill the role.
In response to the escalation of violence towards peaceful protestors, diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar’s political crisis have increased. However, few options appear to be currently viable. In a statement given to the Associated Press, council diplomats said the U.N. Security Council was expected to hold a closed meeting on 5 March, on the situation by request of the United Kingdom. However, even so, being able to come to any kind of agreement of coordinated action at the U.N. will be immensely difficult and complex. Two of the Security Council’s permanent members, China and Russia, would almost undoubtedly veto it due to their ties to Myanmar. Consequently, some countries have imposed or plan to impose their own sanctions as an alternative.
The U.S. State Department responded to the violence with condemnation as spokesman Ned Price stated, “We are appalled and revulsed to see the horrific violent [violence] perpetrated against the people of Burma for their peaceful calls to restore civilian governance. We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn brutal violence by the Burmese military against its own people and to promote accountability for the military’s actions that have led to the loss of life of so many people in Burma.”
Pope Francis also joined in urging for an end to the brutality.
“I appeal also to the international community to act so that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar is not suppressed by violence. That the young people of that beloved land get the opportunity of hope in a future where hate and injustice be replaced by meeting and reconciliation.”
Nevertheless, Myanmar security forces continue to display relentless brutality to the protestors whose numbers still remain high despite the violence, for their resolve for the return of their nation’s democracy remains unbending. Among the fatalities was Angel, also known as Kyal Sin, a 19-year-old whose face has become a symbol in the ongoing tragedy in an act of defiance against the coup. A video shared across social media shows the teen chanting “We won’t run” and “Blood must not be shed” before being shot.
Her T-shirt bore the words, “Everything will be OK.”