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Myanmar Army kills over 90 in deadliest day of protests, launches air strikes on rebels

Video shows soldiers firing indiscriminately at civilians

myanmar-protests-soldiers-reuters Members of the armed forces stand guard during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar March 27, 2021 | REUTERS

Myanmar’s military on Saturday killed nearly a hundred people, even as it celebrated the annual Armed Forces Day holiday with a warning that they would aim for the head.

An independent researcher quoted by AP estimated that 100 had been killed, making Saturday the deadliest day yet since protests began in February. Myanmar Now estimated the death toll at 91 while the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners have yet to release a figure.

Both numbers are higher than all estimates for the previous high on March 14, which ranged in counts from 74 to 90.

As Myanmar's military celebrated the annual holiday with a parade on Saturday in the country's capital, YangonNay Pyi Taw, soldiers and police elsewhere reportedly killed dozens of people.

The Associated Press is unable to independently confirm the death tolls.

In the region near the border with Thailand, the military even launched air strikes against a village controlled by an ethnic armed group that had vowed to fight to overturn the coup. The Karen National Union (KNU) said fighter jets attacked the village at 8pm forcing residents to flee. Two people were reported killed and two wounded according to the Karen Peace Support Network. Earlier, the KNU claimed it had overrun an army base and killed ten soldiers.

Other ethnic groups have warned of consequences if the killings continue.

General Yawd Serk, chair of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army - South (RCSS), told Reuters. “If they continue to shoot at protesters and bully the people, I think all the ethnic groups would not just stand by and do nothing.”

One video which was shared by AAPP showed soldiers firing at civilians.

The killings quickly drew international condemnation, with multiple diplomatic missions to Myanmar releasing statements that mentioned the killing of civilians Saturday, including children.

“This 76th Myanmar armed forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour, the European Union's delegation to Myanmar said on Twitter. The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts."

US Ambassador Thomas Vajda in a statement said "security forces are murdering unarmed civilians...These are not the actions of a professional military or police force...Myanmar's people have spoken clearly: they do not want to live under military rule.”

The death toll in Myanmar has been steadily rising as authorities grow more forceful with their suppression of opposition to the February 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup reversed years of progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule.

Junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing did not directly refer to the protest movement when he gave his nationally televised Armed Forces Day speech before thousands of soldiers in Naypyitaw. He referred only to terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquility and social security, and called it unacceptable.

This year's event was seen as a flashpoint for violence, with demonstrators threatening to double down on their public opposition to the coup with more and bigger demonstrations. The protesters refer to the holiday by its original name, Resistance Day, which marks the beginning of a revolt against Japanese occupation in World War 2.

State television MRTV on Friday night showed an announcement urging young people—who have been at the forefront of the protests and prominent among the casualties—to learn a lesson from those killed during demonstrations about the danger of being shot in the head or back.

The warning was widely taken as a threat because a great number of the fatalities among protesters have come from being shot in the head, suggesting they have been targeted for death. The announcement suggested that some young people were taking part in protesting as if it was a game, and urged their parents and friends to talk them out of participating.

In recent days the junta has portrayed the demonstrators as the ones perpetrating violence for their sporadic use of Molotov cocktails. On Saturday, some protesters in Yangon were seen carrying bows and arrows. In contrast, security forces have used live ammunition for weeks against what have still been overwhelmingly unarmed and peaceful crowds.

The US Embassy said shots were fired Saturday at its cultural centre in Yangon, though no one was injured.

The military government does not issue regular casualty counts, and when it has released figures, the totals have been a fraction of what independent parties such as the UN have reported. It has said its use of force has been justified to stop what it has called rioting.

In his speech Saturday, Min Aung Hlaing used the occasion to try to justify the overthrow of Suu Kyi's government, accusing it of failing to investigate irregularities in last November's general election, and repeating that his government would hold a free and fair election and hand over power afterward.

The military has claimed there were irregularities in the voting rolls for the last election, which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won in a landslide.

The junta detained Suu Kyi on the day it took power, and continues to hold her on minor criminal charges while investigating allegations of corruption against her that her supporters dismiss as politically motivated.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Saturday's events showed that the military, known in Myanmar as the Tatmadaw, should be prosecuted in international courts of law.

This is a day of suffering and mourning for the Burmese people, who have paid for the Tatmadaw's arrogance and greed with their lives, time and time again, he said.

With inputs from PTI


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