Myanmar's wireless broadband internet services were shut down on Friday by order of the military, a local provider said, as protesters continued to defy the threat of lethal violence to oppose the junta's takeover.
A directive from the Ministry of Transport and Communications on Thursday instructed that "all wireless broadband data services be temporarily suspended until further notice,” according to a statement posted online by local provider Ooredoo.
Fiber-based landline internet connections were still working, albeit at drastically reduced speeds.
Also Friday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that Myanmar's military has forcibly disappeared hundreds of people, including politicians, election officials, journalists, activists and protesters and refused to confirm their location or allow access to lawyers or family members in violation of international law.
“The military junta’s widespread use of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances appears designed to strike fear in the hearts of anti-coup protesters,” said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director. “Concerned governments should demand the release of everyone disappeared and impose targeted economic sanctions against junta leaders to finally hold this abusive military to account.”
The crisis in the Southeast Asian nation has expanded sharply in the past week, both in the number of protesters killed and with military airstrikes against the guerrilla forces of the Karen ethnic minority in their homeland along the border with Thailand.
In areas controlled by the Karen, more than a dozen civilians have been killed since Saturday and more than 20,000 have been displaced, according to the Free Burma Rangers, a relief agency operating in the area.
About 3,000 Karen fled to Thailand, but many returned under unclear circumstances. Thai authorities said they went back voluntarily, but aid groups say they are not safe and many are hiding in the jungle and in caves on the Myanmar side of the border.
The U.N. Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia called on countries in the region “to protect all people fleeing violence and persecution in the country” and “ensure that refugees and undocumented migrants are not forcibly returned,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
The U.N. Security Council late Thursday strongly condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters. The press statement was unanimous but weaker than a draft that would have expressed its “readiness to consider further steps,” which could include sanctions. China and Russia, both permanent Council members and both arms suppliers to Myanmar’s military, have generally opposed sanctions.
The statement came after the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar warned the country faces the possibility of civil war and urged significant action be taken or risk it spiraling into a failed state.
Earlier this week, an opposition group consisting of elected lawmakers who were not allowed to be sworn into office Feb. 1 put forth an interim charter to replace Myanmar’s 2008 constitution. By proposing greater autonomy for ethnic minorities, it aims to ally the armed ethnic militias active in border areas with the mass protest movement based in cities and towns.
More than a dozen ethnic minority groups have sought greater autonomy from the central government for decades, sometimes through armed struggle. Even in times of peace, relations have been strained and cease-fires fragile. Several of the major groups — including the Kachin, the Karen and the Rakhine Arakan Army — have denounced the coup and said they will defend protesters in their territories.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country.