Soldiers in Myanmar rampaged through several villages, raping, beheading and killing at least 17 people, residents said, in the latest of what critics of the ruling military say are a series of war crimes since the army seized power two years ago. The bodies of 17 people were recovered last week in the villages of Nyaung Yin and Tar Taing — also called Tatai — in Sagaing region in central Myanmar, according to members of the anti-government resistance and a resident who lost his wife. They said the victims had been detained by the military and in some cases appeared to have been tortured before being killed. Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military’s February 2021 seizure of power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi prompted nationwide peaceful protests that security forces suppressed with deadly force. The violence triggered widespread armed resistance, which has since turned into what some U.N. experts have characterized as a civil war. The army has been conducting major offensives in the countryside, including burning villages and driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. It has faced some of its toughest resistance in Sagaing, in Myanmar’s historic heartland. The soldiers involved in last week’s attacks were in a group of more than 90 who were brought to the area by five helicopters on Feb. 23, said local leaders of the pro-democracy People’s Defense Forces and independent Myanmar media. They said the bodies of 14 people, including three women, were found Thursday on a small island in a river in Nyaung Yin. Three more male victims were found in Tar Taing, including two members of the local resistance. One of the two was dismembered, with his head cut off, they said. The neighboring villages are about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of the major city of Mandalay. Tar Taing resident Moe Kyaw, 42, survived the attack but said his 39-year-old wife, Pan Thwal, and 18-year-old nephew were among those killed. Contacted by phone, he said Friday they were among 70 villagers detained in the middle of the night last Wednesday by soldiers who shot into the air as they herded their captives from their homes to the local Buddhist monastery. Moe Kyaw said the soldiers stole beer and other items from his aunt’s small shop, and as they beat her, he fled for his life, escaping two soldiers who shot at him. He said his wife and other villagers were tortured at the monastery and then taken away from the village, apparently as hostages against any attack. He said his wife and two other women were beaten, raped and shot dead on Thursday by the soldiers, who also took his spouse’s earrings, His two sons, 9 and 11 years old, were released when the soldiers departed, he said. Moe Kyaw did not explain how he knew the details about his wife’s treatment. Myanmar’s underground National Unity Government — the main organization opposed to military rule that describes itself as the country’s legitimate government — said in an online news conference on Monday that the soldiers were from the 99th Light Infantry Division based in Mandalay Region. A leader of a Sagaing resistance group called the Demon King Defense Force said his group attacked the better-armed government troops on Wednesday in a failed effort to rescue the detained villagers. When they went Thursday morning to the small island where the soldiers had taken about 20 villagers they found 14 bodies in three spots, said the resistance leader, who asked not to be identified because of fear of reprisals by the military. Acknowledging that he had not seen the killings, he said he also believed the women had been raped. In an earlier incident apparently involving the same army unit, two boys aged 12 and 13 assisting the People’s Defense Force were captured by government troops on Feb. 26 and beheaded after being forced to show the locations of their camps, according to independent Myanmar media. Photos said to be of their bodies, found at Kan Daw village, about 12 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of Tar Taing, were circulated on social media. A separate group, the Sadaung Lighting People’s Defense Force, has said that two of its older teenage members were also killed and beheaded in fighting at Kan Daw on the same day. The military government has not responded to the allegations. In the past, it has denied documented abuses and said that casualties occurred in the course of fighting against armed anti-government guerrillas. Online media supportive of the military government have made the same claim about the recent incidents in Sagaing or suggested that they were the result of factional fighting within the resistance. Myanmar’s military has long been accused of serious human rights violations, most notably in the western state of Rakhine. International courts are considering whether it committed genocide there in a brutal 2017 counterinsurgency campaign that caused more than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee to neighboring Bangladesh for safety. Last week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk accused the ruling generals of carrying out “a scorched earth policy in an attempt to stamp out opposition.” His agency said credible sources have verified the deaths of at least 2,940 civilians and 17,572 arrests by the military and its allies since the 2021 takeover.
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews on Tuesday reiterated the urgent need for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Myanmar military and stressed the need to significantly increase financial pressure on the junta, as many in Myanmar are doing with boycotts. “The fact that one year has elapsed with no Security Council Resolution imposing a comprehensive arms embargo — as arms continue to flow to the junta and kill innocent people — is unacceptable,” he said. “The people of Myanmar deserve better from the United Nations.” Read: Myanmar takeover anniversary marked by strike, int’l concern One year after the Myanmar military launched a coup, the UN Special Rapporteur released a video featuring the voices of some of those in Myanmar who have suffered greatly and are taking action to defend their country. Tom Andrews implored States to take a more robust course of international action “before it’s too late”. “Now is not the time for more rhetoric, it is time for meaningful action,” the UN expert said. “The international community must take strong, meaningful steps to cut the junta’s access to weapons, funds and legitimacy.” Andrews said he would soon release a report that identifies the weapons that continue to flow into the arsenal of the junta and where they are from. “The military junta is functioning as a criminal enterprise, committing murder, torture, abductions, forced displacement, all the while stealing the revenue and seizing the assets that rightfully belong to the people of Myanmar,” he said. What is worse, they appear to be getting away with it. Their attacks continue unabated. The suffering of the Myanmar people is steadily increasing. “Recent months have seen an even further escalation of violence, and a campaign of terror now widespread across the country. I have received more reports of mass killings, attacks on hospitals and humanitarian targets, and the bombing and burning of villages,” Andrews said. Read: Dozens arrested to suppress protests on Myanmar anniversary Despite great risks and immense hardships, he said, the people of Myanmar are responding with courage, tenacity and an unwavering commitment to save their country and their children’s future. “I am amazed at the resilience of the Myanmar people. In the face of aerial assaults, and mass arrest and torture, they continue to strike, to protest, to speak out and to defend themselves. They need and deserve stronger support from the international community,” Andrews said. On this first anniversary of the illegal coup by the military junta, the best and worst of humanity is unfolding in Myanmar, he said. “As we mark this dark day and what amounts to a military occupation of Myanmar, let the international community, and Member States of the United Nations, offer not only words of concern, but strong action. The people of Myanmar deserve nothing less,” he said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the international community to intensify pressure on the military to stop its campaign of violence against the people of Myanmar and to insist on the prompt restoration of civilian rule. “One year after the military seized power, the people of Myanmar – who have paid a high cost in both lives and freedoms lost – continue to advocate relentlessly for their democracy,” Bachelet said. “This week, I had a chance to speak in person with determined, courageous human rights defenders who are pleading to the international community not to abandon them, but to take robust, effective measures to ensure their rights are protected and the military is held accountable.” The UN Human Rights Office will publish a report in March 2022 detailing the human rights situation in the country since the 1 February 2021 coup. Also read: UN labor group says 1.6M jobs lost in Myanmar in 2021 “I urge governments – in the region and beyond – as well as businesses, to listen to this plea. It is time for an urgent, renewed effort to restore human rights and democracy in Myanmar and ensure that perpetrators of systemic human rights violations and abuses are held to account,” Bachelet said. Bachelet said she had heard chilling accounts of journalists being tortured; factory workers being intimidated, silenced and exploited; intensified persecution of ethnic and religious minorities – including the Rohingya; arbitrary arrests, detentions and sham trials of political opponents; “clearance operations” targeting villagers; and indiscriminate attacks including through airstrikes and the use of heavy weaponry in populated areas, showing gross disregard for human life. “And yet, courageous human rights defenders and trade unionists continue to protest, to advocate, to document and accumulate the mounting evidence of violations,” she said. The brutal effort by security forces to crush dissent has led to the killing of at least 1,500 people by the military since the 1 February coup – but that figure does not include thousands more deaths from armed conflict and violence, which have intensified nationwide. The UN Human Rights Office has documented gross human rights violations on a daily basis, the vast majority committed by security forces. At least 11,787 people have been arbitrarily detained for voicing their opposition to the military either in peaceful protests or through their online activities, of whom 8,792 remain in custody. At least 290 have died in detention, many likely due to the use of torture. Armed clashes have grown in frequency and intensity, with every part of the country experiencing some level of violence. In those areas of highest intensity military activity – Sagaing region, Chin, Kachin, Kayah and Kayin states – the military has been punishing local communities for their assumed support of armed elements. The Office has documented village burnings, including places of worship and medical clinics, mass arrests, summary executions and the use of torture.* The crisis has been exacerbated by the combined forces of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of the banking, transportation, education and other sectors, leaving the economy on the brink of collapse. Also read: Myanmar military reverts to strategy of massacres, burnings The daily lives of people have been severely impacted, with devastating effects on their enjoyment of economic and social rights. There are projections that nearly half of the population of 54 million may be driven into poverty this year. “Members of Myanmar civil society have told me first-hand what the impact of the last year has been on their lives and those of their families and communities," Bachelet said. “The people have shown extraordinary courage and resilience in standing up for their basic human rights and supporting each other. Now the international community must show its resolve to support them through concrete actions to end this crisis.” While there has been near universal condemnation of the coup and the ensuing violence, the international response has been “ineffectual and lacks a sense of urgency commensurate to the magnitude of the crisis,” Bachelet said. The actions taken by the UN Security Council and by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been insufficient to convince Myanmar’s military to cease its violence and facilitate humanitarian access and aid deliveries. The High Commissioner welcomed some private corporations’ decisions to withdraw based on human rights grounds, as a “powerful tool to apply pressure on the financing of the military’s operations against civilians.” Bachelet also stressed that the current human rights crisis is “built upon the impunity with which the military leadership perpetrated the shocking campaign of violence resulting in gross human rights violations against the Rohingya communities of Myanmar four years ago – and other ethnic minorities over many decades beforehand.” “As long as impunity prevails, stability in Myanmar will be a fiction. Accountability of the military remains crucial to any solution going forward – the people overwhelmingly demand this,” Bachelet said.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, Wednesday called for the urgent formation of an "Emergency Coalition for the People of Myanmar" to stop what he described as the military junta's "reign of terror." The international community is failing the people of Myanmar, he said. Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Andrews said it was time to end "the failure of those outside of Myanmar to take measures that could help end this nightmare." Andrews highlighted the extreme human rights abuses committed by the junta, which he described as "crimes against humanity." "The junta's military forces have murdered approximately 900 people, forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands, tortured many, including torturing people in custody to death, disappeared untold numbers, and arbitrarily detained nearly 6,000," Andrews said. Also read: In Myanmar, the military and police declare war on medics Despite its brutality, he added, "The junta has failed to take control of the country after launching its February coup. The junta captured many levers of state power, the purse strings of Myanmar's treasury and the administrative offices, but it has not – not even close – taken control of the nation and its people." "The people of Myanmar roundly view the junta as illegitimate and, indeed, a terrorist scourge set loose upon them. Now, more than ever, we must summon the courage of the people of Myanmar and choose the path of meaningful and sustained action," Andrews said. Andrews' call for an Emergency Coalition for the People of Myanmar would include "nations willing to stand with the people of Myanmar through meaningful, coordinated action." The UN expert said a coalition of nations that are willing to work together on strong action to pressure the junta was necessary considering the paralysis that has followed the consensus decision making that has plagued the international response to date. "The UN Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly have offered statements and resolutions but the people of Myanmar need immediate action," he told the Council in Geneva. Also read: Washington announces further sanctions against Myanmar army personnel and enablers Andrews said, "The Emergency Coalition should significantly reduce the revenue that the junta needs to continue its reign of terror by coordinated tough targeted sanctions, including against Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise." "Also, it will have to outlaw the export of arms to the Myanmar military, as called for in last month's General Assembly resolution; pursue universal jurisdiction cases and coordinate investigations against Myanmar's senior security officials," he added. READ: UK announces sanctions on companies linked to Myanmar’s military regime "The Emergency Coalition should dramatically increase humanitarian aid by working with the National Unity Government to use non-junta channels to assure that aid goes directly to the people of Myanmar. Also, it will have to work together to deny any claims of legitimacy that the junta may try to assert, such as the false claim that they are recognised by the UN " Andrews said.
Representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met with Myanmar’s junta leader on Friday, six weeks after an emergency regional summit on the coup in the country drew promises of progress toward a solution but produced no tangible results. State broadcaster MRTV showed Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing meeting with Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, but provided only a broad outline of their discussions. Earlier this week, an Indonesian diplomat said the delegation’s purpose was to seek Myanmar’s approval of an ASEAN special envoy for the crisis, who is yet to be named. He said the choice of the envoy involved both sides, making progress slow. Friday’s meeting received a cool response from members of Myanmar’s opposition shadow government. The National Unity Government said at a rare online news conference that ASEAN should meet with them as well, not just the military. “Any discussions, any meeting about the future of the people of Myanmar must include the people of Myanmar, (their) voices must be heard,” said spokesperson Sa Sa. Also read: 100 days in power, Myanmar junta holds pretense of control The appointment of an ASEAN envoy was one of five points agreed at the regional summit in Jakarta in April, which Min Aung Hlaing attended over the objection of opponents who said the invitation legitimized his power grab. Shortly afterward, a spokesperson for the military government said it would only allow the envoy to visit after it had achieved security and stability in the country. The military ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, saying her party’s landslide victory in elections last November resulted from massive voter fraud. It has not produced credible evidence to back its claim. Security forces have brutally suppressed widespread popular protests against the military takeover, firing live ammunition into crowds and carrying out waves of arrests. As of Friday, 845 people have been killed in the crackdown, according to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners. Also read: US sanctions Myanmar military and junta leaders for attacks U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric in New York highlighted the impact of violence on public health workers. He said there have been at least 212 reported attacks on patients, health workers, ambulances and health care facilities, resulting in at least 14 deaths and 51 injuries since the coup. “Our colleagues on the ground stress that hospitals are, and must remain, a place of sanctuary and unequivocal neutrality so that patients can seek care and health professionals can provide care safely and without fear,” he said. The Jakarta summit also reached an agreement to immediately end the violence and start a dialogue between the contending parties with the help of the special envoy. Brunei is taking the lead in negotiating with the Myanmar junta because it currently holds ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship. ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In the online news conference, Sa Sa also said the number of people’s militias taking up arms against the military government is set to rise rapidly in response to what he called a “reign of terror.” “There will be so many more forces will appear in the coming months,” he said. “It will be out of control. That’s why we say to the international community to help us to stop this coup. We need stability in Myanmar.” In recent weeks, civilian armed groups have appeared in several regions of the country, often using homemade weapons or old hunting rifles to engage the army and police, with some success. Some groups of pro-democracy activists have fled to the jungles to receive combat training from battle-hardened ethnic armed groups who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.
The parallel government launched by pro-democracy forces in Myanmar following a military coup to rival the ruling junta said Wednesday that it has established what it calls "People's Defence Force." The National Unity Government said the defense force aims to protect supporters and others from violence by the military, but did not say whether it would engage in an armed struggle with the military in earnest. The statement, issued under its prime minister's name, did not provide details about the force, either. The National Unity Government has set its sights on creating a federal army with armed ethnic minorities that are seeking greater autonomy and in conflict with the military in the Southeast Asian country. The National Unity Government said it has a responsibility to stop terrorism committed by the military and end a 70-year civil war, adding that it has already taken up arms and been fighting "terrorist" elements in multiple cities. The junta has issued arrest warrants against senior officials of the parallel government, saying they will be tried for treason, which is punishable by death. Violence against anti-coup protesters and others by Myanmar's security forces since the Feb. 1 coup had killed 769 people as of Tuesday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group monitoring the situation in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s security forces moved in and the street lamps went black. In house after house, people shut off their lights. Darkness swallowed the block. Huddled inside her home in this neighborhood of Yangon, 19-year-old Shwe dared to peek out her window into the inky night. A flashlight shone back, and a man’s voice ordered her not to look. Two gunshots rang out. Then a man’s scream: “HELP!” When the military’s trucks finally rolled away, Shwe and her family emerged to look for her 15-year-old brother, worried about frequent abductions by security forces. “I could feel my blood thumping,” she says. “I had a feeling that he might be taken.” Across the country, Myanmar’s security forces are arresting and forcibly disappearing thousands of people, especially boys and young men, in a sweeping bid to break the back of a three-month uprising against a military takeover. In most cases, the families of those taken do not know where they are, according to an Associated Press analysis of more than 3,500 arrests since February. UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, is aware of around 1,000 cases of children or young people who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, many without access to lawyers or their families. Though it is difficult to get exact data, UNICEF says the majority are boys. It is a technique the military has long used to instill fear and to crush pro-democracy movements. The boys and young men are taken from homes, businesses and streets, under the cover of night and sometimes in the brightness of day. Some end up dead. Many are imprisoned and sometimes tortured. Many more are missing. “We’ve definitely moved into a situation of mass enforced disappearances,” says Matthew Smith, cofounder of the human rights group Fortify Rights, which has collected evidence of detainees being killed in custody. “We’re documenting and seeing widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests.” The AP is withholding Shwe’s full name, along with those of several others, to protect them from retaliation by the military. The autobody shop in Shwe’s neighborhood was a regular hangout for local boys. On the night of March 21, her brother had gone there to chill out like he usually did. As Shwe approached the shop, she saw it had been ransacked. Frantic, she and her father scoured the building for any sign of their beloved boy. But he was gone, and the floor was covered in blood. Ever since the military seized control in February, the conflict in Myanmar has become increasingly bloody. Security forces have killed more than 700 people, including a boy as young as 9. In the meantime, the faces of the missing have flooded the Internet in growing numbers. Online videos show soldiers and police beating and kicking young men as they’re shoved into vans, even forcing captives to crawl on all fours and hop like frogs. Recently, photos of young people detained by security forces also have begun circulating online and on military-controlled Myawaddy TV, their faces bloodied, with clear markings of beatings and possible torture. The military’s openness in broadcasting such photos and brutalizing people in daylight is one more sign that its goal is to intimidate. At least 3,500 people have been detained since the military takeover began, more than three-quarters of whom are male, according to an analysis of data collected by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors deaths and arrests. Of the 419 men whose ages were recorded in the group’s database, nearly two-thirds are under age 30, and 78 are teenagers. Nearly 2,700 of the detainees are being held at undisclosed locations, according to an AAPP spokesman. The group says its numbers are likely an undercount. “The military are trying to turn civilians, striking workers, and children into enemies,” says Ko Bo Kyi, AAPP’s joint secretary. “They think if they can kill off the boys and young men, then they can kill off the revolution.” After receiving questions from The Associated Press, the military, known as the Tatmadaw, called a Zoom press conference, during which it dubbed the AAPP a “baseless organization,” suggested its data was inaccurate, and denied security forces are targeting young men. “The security forces are not arresting based on genders and ages,” said Capt. Aye Thazin Myint, a military spokeswoman. “They are only detaining anyone who is rioting, protesting, causing unrest, or any actions along those lines.” Some of those snatched by security forces were protesting. Some have links to the military’s rival political party, most notably Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the elected government that the military toppled and is now under house arrest. Others are taken for no discernable reason. They are typically charged with Section 505(A) of the Penal Code, which, in part, criminalizes comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” Both the military and police — who fall under the Tatmadaw’s command via the Ministry of Home Affairs — have been involved in the arrests and disappearances, sometimes working in tandem, according to interviews with detainees and families. Experts believe that suggests a coordinated strategy. “The Myanmar police force and the Tatmadaw moved in in a very deliberate way, in a coordinated way, in similar ways, in disparate locations, which to us would indicate that they were working according to orders,” says Smith of Fortify Rights. “It would appear as though there was ... some national level communication and coordination taking place.” Manny Maung, a Myanmar researcher for Human Rights Watch, says one woman she spoke with described being viciously beaten by police until what looked like a senior military official told them to stop. “They’re definitely following orders from military officials,” Maung says. “And whether they’re coordinating — they’re certainly turning up to places together.” So desperate for information are the loved ones of the lost that some families have resorted to a grim experiment: They send food into the prisons and hope if it isn’t sent back out, that means their relatives are still inside. Myanmar human rights activist Wai Hnin Pwint Thon is intimately acquainted with the Tatmadaw’s tactics. Her father, famed political activist Mya Aye, was arrested during a 1988 uprising against military rule, and the family waited months before they learned he was in prison. He was arrested again on the first day of this year’s military takeover. For two months, the military gave Wai Hnin Pwint Thon’s family no information on his whereabouts. On April 1, the family learned he was being held at Yangon’s notorious Insein prison. “I can’t imagine families of young people who are 19, 20, 21, in prison… We are this worried and we’re used to this situation,” she says. “I’m trying to hold onto hope, but the situation is getting worse every day.” Mee, a 27-year-old villager in the northern region of Mandalay, watched as children on motorbikes raced past her house toward the woods. Not long after, the village elders arrived with a dire warning: All the boys must leave and get somewhere safe. The soldiers might be coming. Just two hours later, Mee says, the elders asked the girls to hide, too. The military’s scare tactics have proven enormously effective. In villages and cities across the country, residents regularly take turns holding night watches, banging pots and pans or yelling to neighbors from the street if soldiers or police are spotted. “I am more afraid of being arrested than getting shot,” says one 29-year-old man who was arrested, beaten and later released, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “I have a chance of dying on the spot with just one shot. But being arrested, I am afraid that they would torture me.” Fearing for her life on that March afternoon, Mee and hundreds of fellow villagers fled to pineapple farms in the surrounding hills. When she arrived, she saw scores of people from other villages hiding in the forest. That night, as mosquitos swarmed and sounds from the forest haunted them, the women stayed inside a small bamboo tent while the boys took turns standing guard. No one slept. Mee was terrified but not surprised. Many of the villagers had run from the military and hidden in the woods before. “It’s heartbreaking,” she says. For decades, the Tatmadaw has used arbitrary arrests, disappearances, forced labor and other abuses to crush pro-democracy movements and suppress minorities, including its notoriously brutal 2017 campaign of persecution against Rohingya Muslims. “Sometimes communities are asked to provide a number of young men on a ‘voluntary’ basis; sometimes they are taken,” Laetitia van den Assum, a former diplomat and a member of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, said in an e-mail. Arbitrary arrests continue across the country daily. Just two weeks earlier, a few minutes away from Mee’s village, 24-year-old philosophy student Ko Ko was walking home from a protest with a friend when they were arrested. His parents learned of their imprisonment from friends of friends, not officials. More than a month later, his parents still haven’t heard from their only son, says Han, a neighbor. He’s part of an unlucky cohort: at least 44 people taken from the town are yet to be released, Han says. While many of the young men in Mee’s village returned home after two nights in the pineapple fields, some continue to sleep there. Mee has since gone back to her village. Whenever she sees a soldier, she runs. But her fear has largely given way to fury. “I was angry that night, and I am still angry,” she says. “It’s so frustrating that the people who are supposed to be protecting our lives, our safety, our livelihoods and our homes are the people who are chasing us and killing us. … We are helpless.” The glass was shattering, and there was nowhere left for the 21-year-old university student to run. The soldiers were smashing through the front doors of the house in Mandalay. The chaos of such raids is usually followed by a sinister silence, with the families of the taken rarely hearing from officials. But the accounts of some survivors who dare to speak about their ordeals help fill the void of what often happens next. The student, who asked that his name be withheld out of fear of retaliation, had taken refuge in the house along with around 100 others after security forces stormed a rally they were attending. The soldiers had thrown tear gas at them, forcing them to flee. Now he and a half dozen others were cornered in a bathroom on the home’s second level. Downstairs, the security forces used a slingshot and the butt of a gun to break through the doors. The soldiers began beating the boys they found inside, so viciously that a few of their heads cracked open. They urinated on one young man. The student watched as the glass above the bathroom door imploded. “They are here!” the soldiers yelled, then burst in, guns drawn. He bowed his head, since anyone who looked at the soldiers was kicked. The soldiers kicked him anyway, twice in the waist, and hit him twice in the head. As he was marched down the stairs, he saw a soldier with a gun standing on nearly every step. He and around 30 other young men were arrested and ushered into a prison van. Both the military and police were there. The soldiers threatened to burn the van and tauntingly offered the detainees juice before throwing it at them. When they arrived at the prison, the young man saw 400 to 500 people in the temporary holding area. The next day, he was charged with Section 505(A) of the penal code. He and around 50 others spent nine days jammed into one room. There were only two toilets. They were allowed out of the cell twice a day to clean themselves. The same water was used for showering, drinking, washing dishes and using the toilet. When the young man learned he was being transferred to the main prison, he wanted to cry. A few days before his arrest, he had been looking at missing persons posts on social media. Now he realized most of those people were probably in prison like him. The young man had good reason to be frightened. “People are disappearing and turning up dead,” says Maung, of Human Rights Watch. “We have had primary reports, also, of torture while they’re in custody.” The group found that some people detained inside Insein prison were subjected to beatings, stress positions and severe interrogation tactics, up until March 4, Maung says. After that, guards began taking prisoners to second locations and torturing them, then returning them to Insein. In Mandalay, the young man’s family was sick with worry. Some of his friends told them he had been arrested; the authorities never called them. His family sent food into the prison for him. But even when it wasn’t returned, they couldn’t be sure he was inside. They heard reports about protesters being tortured. His sisters cried constantly. Thirteen days after his arrest, the young man was allowed ten minutes to speak with his sister. A week later, an official ordered him to pack his things. In shock, he realized he was being released. There was no time to say goodbye to his friends. The officials took videos and photos of him and around 20 others, and told them to sign statements promising they wouldn’t break the law again. Then they were set free. He didn’t feel lucky — he felt horrible. He didn’t understand why he’d been singled out for release while his friends were still stuck inside. “None of us really feel safe living our normal lives now. For me now, I have reservations walking alone outside even in my neighborhood,” he says. “And also, I feel worried to see the parents of my friends in the neighborhood, because I am out — and their children are not.” Back in Yangon, Shwe stared at the puddles of blood on the floor of the shop where her baby brother had been. It looked as if the security forces had half-heartedly tried to wash it away, but red pools remained. Maybe the blood wasn’t his, she told herself. Shwe’s brother and three other young men from the shop had been hauled away. Neighbors told the family that both police and soldiers were there. The neighbors said the security forces may have targeted the boys because they spotted someone inside the shop with a steel dart slingshot. At 2 a.m., a police officer called to say Shwe’s brother was at a military hospital and had been shot in the hand. They later learned security forces had shot another young man’s finger during the raid. Shwe says her family told the police that her brother was underage. The officer, she says, reassured them that because he was a minor, he probably wouldn’t be charged. Around 7 a.m., the family went to the hospital to bring him food. But their pleas to see him were rejected. Shwe and her family were later told that he was being moved to a prison hospital. Then, on the night of March 27, came the news that stunned them: Her brother and the three others had been charged with possession of weapons, and sentenced to three years in prison. They were allowed one brief phone call with him when he was first in the hospital, and nothing since. Shwe remembers hearing her brother tell their anguished mother, “Thar ah sin pyay tal.” I am OK. Shwe has no idea if that is still true. She worries for her brother, a quiet boy who loves playing games. She worries, too, for their mother, who cries and cries, and for their father, who aches for his only son. For now, they can do little more than wait and hope: That he won’t be beaten. That he will get a pardon. That the people of Myanmar will soon feel safe again. “Even though we are all in distress, we try to look on the bright side that at least we know where he is,” she says. “We are lucky that he was only abducted.”
Myanmar’s junta on Saturday released more than 23,000 prisoners to mark the traditional new year holiday, including at least three political detainees, and the military leader behind the February coup confirmed he would attend a regional summit later this month. It wasn’t immediately clear if those released included pro-democracy activists who were detained for protesting the coup. State broadcaster MRTV said that junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing had pardoned 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported from Myanmar. He also reduced sentences for others. As security forces continued the deadly crackdown, unconfirmed but credible accounts with photos on social media said that three people were killed Saturday in the central city of Mogok, in Myanmar’s gem mining region. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests, government forces have killed at least 728 protesters and bystanders since the takeover. The group says 3,141 people, including ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are in detention. Among those released Saturday from Yangon’s Insein Prison were at least three political prisoners who were jailed in 2019. They are members of the Peacock Generation performing troupe who were arrested during that year’s new year celebrations for skits that poked fun at military representatives in Parliament and military involvement in business. Also read: Stepping up Myanmar coup penalties, US suspends trade deal Their traditional style of acting is called Thangyat, a mash-up of poetry, comedy and music with a sharp undertone of satire. Several members of the troupe were convicted under a law banning circulation of information that could endanger or demoralize members of the military. The actors may have drawn the special wrath of the military because they performed in army uniforms. Several members were also found guilty of online defamation for livestreaming their performances. It’s not clear if all of them were released. Another freed prisoner was Ross Dunkley, an Australian newspaper entrepreneur sentenced in 2019 to 13 years on charges of drug possession. His release was confirmed by his ex-wife Cynda Johnston, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported. Dunkley co-founded the The Myanmar Times, an English-language daily, but was forced to give up his share in it. He became well-known for co-founding or acquiring English-language publications in formerly socialist states that were seeking foreign investment, but was sometimes criticized for doing business with authoritarian regimes. Early prisoner releases are customary during major holidays, and this is the second batch the ruling junta has announced since taking power. Also read: 93 killed in one of deadliest days since Myanmar coup Following the release of more than 23,000 convicts to mark Union Day on Feb. 12, there were reports on social media that some were recruited by the authorities to carry out violence at night in residential areas to spread panic, especially by setting fires. Some areas responded by setting up their own neighborhood watch groups. In March, more than 600 people who were imprisoned for demonstrating against the coup were also released from Insein Prison, a rare conciliatory gesture by the military that appeared aimed at placating the protest movement. They were mostly young people caught in sweeps of street rallies while those considered protest leaders were kept locked up. Neither the military government nor those opposed to it show any signs of backing off. Western nations have tried to pressure the military through diplomatic and economic sanctions with little effect. Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors, concerned about the prospects for regional instability, are also trying to get the junta to start back on the path to restoring democracy, or at least end its violent repression. A spokesman for Thailand’s Foreign Ministry in Bangkok said Saturday that junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has confirmed he will attend a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — ASEAN — expected to be held on April 24. Tanee Sangrat said in a text message to journalists that Brunei, the current chair of the 10-nation body, confirmed it had proposed the date for a meeting at the group’s secretariat in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Indonesia has taken the lead in calling for the special meeting to discuss the crisis in Myanmar.
Opponents of Myanmar’s ruling junta went on the political offensive Friday, declaring they have formed an interim national unity government with members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted cabinet and major ethnic minority groups. The move comes on the eve of a diplomatic initiative to solve Myanmar’s crisis by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is expected to hold a summit next week. A violent crackdown by the junta has failed to stem opposition to the coup, and as the army has spread the fight to ethnic minorities in border areas, some ASEAN members believe the crisis threatens regional stability. Opponents of the coup have been seeking an alliance with ethnic minority groups as a way of strengthening their resistance. The minorities for decades have kept up on-again, off-again armed struggles for greater autonomy in the borderlands. While it was not clear if the minority political organizations had formally joined an alliance, the appointment of prominent personalities from their ranks showed a commitment to a joint struggle against the military, which is certain to boost morale to the anti-coup cause. Also read: Stepping up Myanmar coup penalties, US suspends trade deal Security forces have killed at least 726 protesters and bystanders since the Feb. 1 military takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. The protests and the killings have been continuing on a daily basis. The National Unity Government is nominally an upgrade from what had been called the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which was formed shortly after the coup by elected lawmakers who were barred by the army from taking their seats. The CRPH sought international recognition as Myanmar’s sole legitimate government body, but won only popular support from those opposed to military rule. The junta declared the CRPH an illegal organization, and issued arrest warrants for its leading members. A video posted Friday on social media showed veteran activist Min Ko Naing announcing the formation of the new body. He was a leader of the failed 1988 uprising against a previous military dictatorship and is one of the country’s most respected political figures aside from Suu Kyi. He went quickly underground after the coup and apparently has been active in political organizing against the junta since then. “Please support the National Unity Government for the future of our citizens and our younger generation.” he said. “The people are the decision makers and the people will fight the final battle. Victory is coming, We must win our revolution.” Also read: 93 killed in one of deadliest days since Myanmar coup More details were provided in a statement on social media by Dr. Sasa, a physician and philanthropist who though in hiding has been the online public face of the CRPH.. “Today, at the end of Thingyan on the eve of Myanmar’s new year, we are proud to announce the formation of a new National Unity Government and the dawn of a new era for the people of Myanmar,” said Sasa. “For the first time in our history, Myanmar has a unity government that will reflect one of our nation’s greatest strengths - the diversity of our people.” The CRPH announced that Suu Kyi retains her post as state counsellor and Win Myint as president, though both were arrested in the coup and remain in detention, with criminal charges against them that supporters call politically motivated. Sasa said the interim’s government’s vice president — its acting president - is Duwa Lashi La, a political leader of the Kachin minority from the country’s north, while the prime minister is Mahn Win Khaing Than, from the Karen minority in eastern Myanmar, who had been speaker of the elected upper house of Parliament. Sasa himself comes from the Chin minority, while Myanmar’s government and military have always been dominated by the Burman majority. Also read: Myanmar coup leader: 'Join hands' with army for democracy It is not the first time in recent decades that opponent to military rule in Myanmar have formed a shadow government. In 1990, they formed the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma after a military regime refused to recognize the results of a general election won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s party. That shadow government maintained a presence in territory controlled by the Karen on Myanmar’s eastern frontier, but also operated as a lobbying group based in Maryland in the United States. It dissolved itself in September 2012 after Suu Kyi’s party took part in by-elections earlier that year, capturing 43 of the 44 seats it contested.
At least 82 people were killed in one day in a crackdown by Myanmar security forces on pro-democracy protesters, according to reports Saturday from independent local media and an organization that keeps track of casualties since the February coup. Friday’s death toll in Bago was the biggest one-day total for a single city since March 14, when just over 100 people were killed in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. Bago is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Yangon. The Associated Press is unable to independently verify the number of deaths. The death toll of 82 was a preliminary one compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which issues daily counts of casualties and arrests from the crackdown in the aftermath of the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Their tallies are widely accepted as highly credible because cases are not added until they have been confirmed, with the details published on their website. In its Saturday report, the group said that it expected the number of dead in Bago to rise as more cases were verified. The online news site Myanmar Now also reported that 82 people had been killed, citing an unnamed source involved with charity rescue work. Myanmar Now and other local media said the bodies had been collected by the military and dumped on the grounds of a Buddhist pagoda. Also read:Will Myanmar learn its lessons? At least 701 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces since the army’s takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The attack on Bago was the third in the past week involving the massive use of force to try to crush the persistent opposition to the ruling junta. Attacks were launched Wednesday on hardcore opponents of military rule who had set up strongholds in the towns of Kalay and Taze in the country’s north. In both places, at least 11 people -- possibly including some bystanders -- were reported killed. The security forces were accused of using heavy weapons in their attacks, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, though such allegations could not be independently confirmed by The Associated Press. Photos posted on social media from Bago appeared to show fragments of mortar shells. Most protests in cities and town around the country are carried out by nonviolent demonstrators who consider themselves part of a civil disobedience movement. Also read:Myanmar cuts wireless internet service amid coup protests But as the police and military escalated the use of lethal force, a hardcore faction of protesters armed themselves with homemade weapons such as firebombs in the name of self-defense. In Kalay, activists dubbed themselves a “civil army” and some equipped themselves with rudimentary hunting rifles that are traditional in the remote area. A report by Myanmar Now said residents of Tamu, a town in the same region as Kalay, used hunting rifles Saturday to ambush a military convoy, and claimed to kill three soldiers. The junta has taken other measures as well to discourage resistance. It recently published a wanted list of 140 people active in the arts and journalism charged with spreading information that undermines the stability of the country and the rule of law. The penalty for the offense is up to three years’ imprisonment. Arrests of those on the list have been highly publicized in state media. State television channel MRTV reported Friday night that a military court had sentenced to death 19 people -- 17 in absentia -- for allegedly killing an army officer in Yangon on March 27. The attack took place in an area of the city that is under martial law, and the court action appeared to be the first time the death sentence has been imposed under the junta’s rule. The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, arrived Friday in the Thai capital Bangkok on a regional mission to resolve the crisis in Myanmar. She intends to sound out several Southeast Asian governments for their ideas but has been denied permission to visit Myanmar.