Myanmar security forces shot dead an anti-junta demonstrator in Mandalay on Friday, driving the death toll from violent crackdowns in Myanmar’s second-largest city up to 11, while the hasty exhumation of the body of protester killed earlier in the week added to anger at military authorities.
The death came as more police quit their jobs to join the protest movement and the U.S. ambassador in Yangon had his first meeting with the junta in the nearly five weeks since the army deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government, sparking daily protests across the country.
In Mandalay, Zaw Myo was shot in the neck as he marched with fellow engineers in a morning protest. Though he received emergency treatment at a private clinic, he died of his wound a few hours later, leaving behind a pregnant wife and a young son, they said.
“What happened this morning in Mandalay was a shooting without any provocation,” said a city resident who declined to give his name for fear of his safety.
“This is beyond lawlessness,” he said. “People not only are losing their right to express themselves, but also have to watch out for themselves not to get killed. Society cannot condone the current violence committed by the police and those soldiers in police uniforms.”
The military on Friday dug up the grave of Kyal Sin, a 19-year-old ethnic Chinese woman who was shot in the head when Myanmar forces opened fire to disperse an anti-coup demonstration Wednesday in Mandalay, residents and witnesses said.
A day after tens of thousands of people attended a memorial service for Kyal Sin, also known as Angel, a military vehicle and six police trucks arrived at the Yunnan Chinese section of the Aye Yeik Nyein Cemetery on Thursday evening and exhumed the young woman’s body, witnesses said. Security forces cordoned off the area so no one could enter.
‘There was only plaster’
When the vehicles left about three hours later, local residents entered the cemetery and discovered the body had been taken.
“The grave was dug up and it had been covered with new fresh plaster,” said a resident who requested anonymity for safety reasons. “By the time we arrived, there was only wet plaster, and we did not know why.”
RFA could not reach the military or police to confirm that they removed Kyal Sin’s body and took it away. RFA also was unable to reach Kyal Sin’s family for information on the incident.
The Mandalay Daily newspaper, which is under the control of the junta, published a report on Friday saying that military authorities would investigate the young woman’s death. A similar report appeared on Thursday in the military-owned Myawaddy TV.
Local residents said that the exhumation appears to have been related to the investigation.
The Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar (VOM) reported that the body was found exhumed from the grave and placed in a military vehicle for some time, citing those close to the incident.
The military summoned members of the city’s judicial and legal community Friday morning to retrieve the body, but they refused without a legal order from the chief justice, VOM said, quoting legal sources. It is not clear whether any medical or legal authorities were involved in the exhumation.
‘We don’t care if we die today’
Despite the mounting death toll across the country and warnings from troops, anti-coup protesters marched on the streets of several big cities in the country of 54 million people.
In Yangon’s North Okkalapa township, where more than 22 protesters died in a brutal crackdown on Wednesday, tens of thousands of demonstrators held a rally on a main road at Kantharyar Junction demanding that the military step down.
Demonstrators erected barriers on main roads in Sangyaung, Insein, Thingangyun, South Okkalapa, North Okkalapa, and Thaketa townships in Yangon region.
“We cannot accept this military takeover. … We will go on fighting to resist oppression. We don’t care if we die today. They should step down if they have any shame,” said a young protester at Kantharyar Junction.
At least 50 people have been killed since the protests began. The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), a watchdog group, said that as of Friday, 1,522 people had been arrested, charged, or sentenced in relation to the military coup, with 1,215 still being held.
The extreme violence of the week prompted U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Thomas Vajda on Friday to urge Vice Senior General Soe Win, deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to immediately stop the violence against demonstrators and to release all detainees, including top leaders of the elected government.
Vajda also called for an end to arrests and communications blackouts, and the restoration of the democratically elected government.
The U.N. Security Council meanwhile met behind closed doors on Friday to discuss the rising death toll from the protests in Myanmar.
Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for Myanmar, urged the Council to push harder to end the violence and restore democratic institutions.
“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, which returned the pro-democracy party of jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to power.
More police join CDM
More than 200 Myanmar police officers, both senior and junior, have left their jobs to join the nationwide anti-coup civil disobedience movement (CDM) accompanying protests, because they say they no longer can tolerate violent crackdowns on and killings of peaceful protesters across the country.
Those who have joined the CDM said the military, which seized government power in a Feb. 1 coup, is hiding behind police in uniform so soldiers can shoot live ammunition at protesters and use snipers to clear crowds.
One hundred officers from Kayah state’s total police force of 240 have joined the CDM. No other state or region has as many defectors as the state, which borders Thailand. Other officers who have left the police force are mainly from Yangon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw, and Sagaing region.
“I do not want to serve under the military regime any longer,” said Paulu, a policeman from the Hpruso Myoma Police Station in Kayah state. “It was not easy leaving the station. All the doors inside were locked, but we tried very hard to escape late at night.”
A policeman from Mandalay’s Shwe Saryan Police Regiment No. 4 who joined the CDM said the military is using the police as “human shields.”
The officer, who declined to be named out of fear for his safety, said he was among the security forces who participated in a violent crackdown on anti-junta protesters on a jetty at the Yadanapon Shipyard on Feb. 20, through the shootings that killed several demonstrators were carried out by soldiers.
During the incident, police had to lead in the front with their shields, while soldiers and snipers shot at protesters with live rounds from behind them, he said. One man was killed instantly, and another who was shot in the knee died later in custody.
“They are using us as human shields,” the officer told RFA. “We have been used to being their handymen and getting a very negative reputation, so we decided to join the movement.”
About three quarters of the security personnel who participated in the shipyard crackdown were soldiers wearing police uniforms, he said.
The violence compelled more than 20 officers from his unit to stop working and join the CDM, he added.
“This is a very shameful thing,” the officer said of police participating in the violence against peaceful protesters. “Our parents cannot be proud of us. It is totally unacceptable that we have to crack down on these people who are of our same generation.”
White stars on helmets
Police officer Thant Thura Maung Maung from Kyaukse in Mandalay said he saw some policemen with small white stars on their helmets, which were not issued by the police.
“How can we serve them [the military] when we realize they are issuing all kinds of orders and making their own laws to hold onto power?” he asked. “We cannot follow those orders and enforce these laws.”
Many young men dressed as police who appeared as though they just completed training and others who violently attacked protesters were mostly soldiers in police uniforms, Thant Thura Maung Maung said.
Miemie Winn Byrd, a Honolulu-based Asia Pacific security analyst and retired Burmese-American colonel, warned that Myanmar police and military forces could face international criminal prosecution for using live ammunition against peaceful civilian protesters.
“They said they had to shoot on orders from higher authorities, but the authorities told ASEAN as well as the international community that they did not give orders to shoot at people,” she told RFA on Friday.
“And since the authorities told the world that they had not given orders, the commanders at the front line who gave the orders would be accountable for the killings,” she said.
Still hope for democracy, federalism
Meanwhile, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a national legislative body led by National League for Democracy legislators elected in the 2020 elections, is preparing to meet with ethnic political parties and ethnic armed groups to discuss the prospect of building a democratic federal union, despite junta rule, CRPH spokesman Yee Mon said.
Some ethnic armed groups have voiced concern over the framework of the 2008 constitution that ensures the military a dominant role in parliament and politics, while others expressed a willingness to build a unified alliance against the junta dictatorship.
The current constitution, drafted by a previous military junta that ruled the country, enshrines the power of the military in civilian affairs by giving it control over three defense and security ministries, reserving a quarter of seats in parliament for appointed officers, and giving military lawmakers a crucial veto over proposed constitutional amendments.
“We will work toward finding a constitution that can guarantee federalism and genuine democracy in our country,” Yee Mon said. “I believe all the ethnic groups and democratic forces in the country have agreed on establishing a new Union based on democracy and federalism.”
The parties now must hold meetings and engage in extensive negotiations before establishing a new government that allows the fullest representation in the country, he said.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.