Defiant anti-junta protests in Yangon and cities across Myanmar were suppressed by military gunfire that killed five protesters Tuesday, as grieving families buried their dead from violence in Yangon and China issued a warning to protect Chinese businesses after dozens were vandalized, looted and burned in previous days.
The five slain protesters raised to 181 the death toll RFA has recorded as of Tuesday, including four additional fatalities from Monday, in the six weeks of protests since the Feb. 1 military coup that deposed the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Tuesday saw emotive scenes as bereaved families held funerals of people killed by security forces, including Khat Nyar Hein, a first-year medical student and member of the country’s ethnic Chinese community who was shot dead by the police in Yangon on Sunday, the deadliest day since the coup.
“Today I lost my son. He was a good son. My heart aches. My heart is full of pain,” said the young man’s mother, speaking in Mandarin.
Security forces shot 17-year-old Khant Nyar Hein in the head on Sunday during anti-coup protests in Yangon’s Tamwe township. Citizen video shows police approaching his body, beating up and arresting a young woman who was trying to help him, then later dragging his body away.
His mother pleaded in a video posted on social media for Myanmar’s people to differentiate between ethnic Chinese citizens of the Southeast Asian country, who are among the millions of Myanmar people who oppose the coup, and the People’s Republic of China in Beijing.
‘I don’t love your government’
China has protected the junta from international diplomatic pressure at the United Nations, but called for legal action over arson attacks on dozens of Chinese-invested garment factories in Yangon on Sunday.
“I am authentic Chinese, but I don’t love your government there. Not a single bit,” the slain student’s mother said in comments apparently directed at Beijing.
The father of Khant Nyar Hein also weighed in, saying “I hope [the Chinese government] will have sympathy for ethnic Chinese people in Myanmar and for our democracy movement and overturn this coup government.”
Like the ethnic Chinese in Myanmar, democratic Taiwan has taken great pains since the weekend attacks to inform the local population that it has no connection to China.
Taiwan’s representative office in Myanmar has “suggested Taiwanese businesspeople hang signs in Burmese reading ‘Taiwanese company’ at their factories and to hang our country’s national flag, and explain to local workers and neighbors they are a Taiwanese factory, to avoid outsiders getting confused and misjudging,” Reuters news agency reported on Monday from Taipei.
Ethnic Chinese, one of multiethnic Myanmar’s 135 recognized ethnic groups, make up about three percent of the country’s population of 54 million.
After arson attacks on 32 Chinese-funded factories in several Yangon townships Sunday and Monday, causing what China’s state media was nearly 240 million yuan (U.S. $37 million) in damages, Beijing stepped up pressure on military authorities to quell the protests and to protect Chinese interests in the country.
“The rising anti-China sentiment could strain the relationship between the two countries and put the already besieged Myanmar economy under greater duress,” said an editorial by China’s state-run CGTN.
“If it is proven that Myanmar cannot ensure the safety of foreign investments and personnel, it wouldn’t only turn off Chinese investment but all investment from overseas,’ it said on Monday.
“Chinese businesses create a large number of employment opportunities and help promote Myanmar’s economic and social development,” it said. “We hope the Myanmar side will take further effective measures to ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese enterprises and personnel.”
Myanmar political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that “the situation became worse when the two Chinese factories in Hlaingthaya and Shwepyitha townships were hit” in arson attacks Monday.
“The declaration of martial law is the result of the Chinese Embassy’s call for an effective deterrent action,” he said, echoing the widespread belief that China can influence the junta.
Despite rising risk of death or injury from the increasingly aggressive junta forces, defiant anti-junta protests carried on in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Magway, Monywa, and Loikaw and in other parts of the country, which is the size of France.
Security forces killed two protesters were killed in Kawlin, in the northwestern region of Sagaing, as more than 3,000 demonstrators rallied at the township administrator’s residence, witnesses said.
One of the people killed was a man in his 40s who was hit when police dispersed crowds in front of the residence, said a witness who did not provide his name.
“The bullet went through his arm and through his chest,” he said. “We can confirm he’s dead. We heard there were two others injured, but we don’t know exactly how many in all.”
When protesters regrouped in the afternoon and surrounded the police station, gunfire was heard, the witness added.
Migrant workers trapped by violence
In Hlaingthaya township, a factory zone west of Yangon that was the scene of more than 50 deaths Monday, demonstrators staged anti-military protests in defiance of martial law, only to be met with more violence by security personnel.
“Police and soldiers chased the protesters even into small alleyways and fired indiscriminately,” said one witness. “The number of casualties is not known yet.”
He said protesters did not confront police and soldiers because their numbers were large and they had brought in bulldozers to clear away protester barricades.
Thousands of migrant workers from other parts of Myanmar had been trying to leave the township since early morning to escape the crackdown, a township resident said.
“The migrant workers are leaving for their hometowns because of insecurity here. There are no jobs around for them, and they have to take up the duties of security guards at night,” he said.
People cannot move around safely in the wards given indiscriminate shooting that has occurred for the last three days, he added.
Another unnamed man said that the wards are almost deserted.
“We all are furious. To say it frankly, we just want to hit them back,” he said, referring to security forces.
Indiscriminate gunfire kills teen
Video footage of soldiers and police brutally suppressing people at a peaceful nighttime sit-in Yangon’s Dawbon township on Monday have gone viral on social media, with one clip showing security personnel shooting a demonstrator and dragging him naked on the a street.
Protests were staged in other townships in Yangon region, also under martial law, including North Okkalapa, where scores of young people led a demonstration, and in North Dagon, where security forces cleared makeshift barricades set up by protesters and fired their rifles down side roads, damaging cars and houses.
“The more they press, the more we will rise up,” said one defiant township resident. “Everything the military council is doing is total injustice. The security of the people has been diminishing. Some people are now having ideas to fight back until death.”
One protester died during a crackdown in South Dagon, witnesses told RFA.
In Mandalay’s Thabeikkyin township, a 14-year-old girl and a man were killed when police and soldiers fired at protesters, residents said.
Local residents who were checking traffic entering their town from Mogok to the north of Mandalay, confronted policemen inside a car who shot their way out as they left the scene. About 200 soldiers who entered the area fired indiscriminately at residents, hitting the teenager who was in her house, residents said.
Several others were injured, some seriously, and about 20 people were taken away by security forces, they said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a watchdog group, said that as of Tuesday, 2,181 people had been arrested, charged, or sentenced in relation to the military coup, with 1,862 still being held or with outstanding warrants.
In the ancient town of Bagan, about 2,200 civil servants, including police, bankers, and General Administration Department staffers, comprising over 80 percent of state employees in the area, have joined the civil disobedience movement running in tandem with the protests, locals said.
Some of the workers have stood their ground despite threats by their superiors angry that the striking employees have nearly brought services to a stop.
“They have prepared themselves to carry out the worst human rights violations,” activist Nickey Diamond from the Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights NGO, referring to the ruling military council.
“They have taken up positions in every township and have killed and injured many protesters. Their actions can be seen as crimes against humanity,” he told RFA.
RFA was unable to reach a military spokesman for comment.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.