Forces in Myanmar open fire at funeral of student killed during protest crackdown

Irish citizens advised to leave Myanmar after state security forces kill 114 protesters

114 people were reportedly killed by state security forces in Myanmar on Saturday in a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Video: Reuters

 

Myanmar security forces opened fire on Sunday, witnesses said, at people gathered for the funeral of one of the 114 people killed the previous day, the bloodiest day of protests since the military coup on Februrary 1st.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the firing on the funeral in the town of Bago, near the commercial capital Yangon, according to three people who spoke to Reuters.

Irish citizens in Myanmar are being advised to leave the country by commercial means unless they have an urgent reason to stay. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Irish embassy in Bangkok is maintaining regular communication with all registered Irish citizens in Myanmar to provide advice and information.

In a statement Mr Coveney said: “The security forces have disgraced themselves and these actions leave another stain on the history of Myanmar.

“Those who directed these killings must be held to account,” he added, calling on the Myanmar military to “step back from actions designed to consolidate power through fear and brutal violence” and recognise “their actions are leading the country to further division and instability”.

Separate incidents

Three people were killed in firing on Sunday in separate incidents elsewhere, witnesses and news reports said. One person was killed when troops opened fire overnight on a group of protesters near the capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar Now news reported.

So far on Sunday there were no reports of large-scale protests in Yangon or in the country’s second city, Mandalay, which bore the brunt of the casualties on Saturday, Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day. Funerals were held in many places.

At least six children between the ages of 10 and 16 were among those killed on Saturday, according to news reports and witnesses.

The bloodshed drew renewed Western condemnation. The UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar said the army was carrying out “mass murder” and called on the world to isolate the junta and halt its access to weapons.

Foreign criticism and sanctions imposed by some Western nations have failed so far to sway the military leaders, as have almost daily protests around the country since the junta took power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Heavy fighting has also erupted between the army and the ethnic armed groups that control swathes of the country.

Military jets killed at least two members of the Karen National Union (KNU) militia in a bombing raid near Thailand and many civilians fled across the border, said David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers, a relief organisation.

In an air attack by the military on Saturday, at least three civilians were killed in a village controlled by the KNU, a civil society group said. The militia earlier said it had overrun an army post near the border, killing 10 people.

Fighting erupted on Sunday between another armed group, the Kachin Independence Army, and the military in the jade-mining area of Hpakant in the north. The Kachin forces attacked a police station and the military responded with an aerial assault, Kachinwaves media reported.

There were no reports of casualties.

A junta spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment on the killings or the fighting.

Senior general Min Aung Hlaing, the junta leader, said during a parade to mark Armed Forces Day that the military would protect the people and strive for democracy.

‘Ringing hollow’

Saturday’s dead included 40 people in Mandalay and at least 27 in Yangon, Myanmar Now said. The casualties took the overall number of civilians reported killed since the coup to more than 440.

Countries including the United States, Britain, Germany and the European Union strongly condemned the violence.

UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said the junta should be cut off from funding, such as oil and gas revenues, and from access to weapons.

“Words of condemnation or concern are frankly ringing hollow to the people of Myanmar while the military junta commits mass murder against them,” he said in a statement.

UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu and UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet called the killings “shameful, cowardly, brutal actions of the military and police, who have been filmed shooting at protesters as they flee, and who have not even spared young children”.

The Myanmar military took power saying that November elections won by Suu Kyi’s party were fraudulent, an assertion dismissed by the country’s election commission. Suu Kyi remains in detention at an undisclosed location and many other figures in her party are also in custody.

Air strikes

Shots were fired at the cultural American Center Yangon on Saturday, according to Aryani Manring, a representative for the US embassy in Myanmar. She didn’t provide details and said the incident is being investigated.

Earlier, the Karen National Union said it had overrun an army post near the Thai border, killing 10 people – including a lieutenant colonel – and losing one of its own fighters as tensions with the military surged after years of relative peace.

News reports said there were deaths in Sagaing, Lashio in the east, in the Bago region, near Yangon, and elsewhere. A one-year-old baby was hit in the eye with a rubber bullet.

Russia ‘a true friend’

New US and European sanctions this week increased external pressure on the junta, but the condemnation is not universal.

Russia’s deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin attended the parade in Naypyitaw, having met senior junta leaders a day earlier.

“Russia is a true friend,” Min Aung Hlaing said.

Diplomats said eight countries - Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand – sent representatives, but Russia was the only one to send a minister to the parade on Armed Forces Day.

Support from Russia and China, which has also refrained from criticism, is important for the junta as those two countries are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and can block potential UN actions.

In a warning on Friday evening, state television said protesters were “in danger of getting shot to the head and back”. It did not specifically say security forces had been given shoot-to-kill orders and the junta has previously suggested some fatal shootings have come from within the crowds. –Agencies