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.
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.
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.
Security forces in Myanmar cracked down heavily again on anti-coup protesters Friday even as the military downplayed reports of state violence. Reports on online news outlets and social media said at least four people were killed in Bago, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Yangon, in an attack by government troops and police that began before dawn and continued sporadically until after dark. The Bago Weekly Journal Online said a source at the city’s main hospital, whom it didn’t name, believed about 10 people had been killed. It was the third attack this week involving the massive use of deadly force by security forces to try to crush active opposition to the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. On Wednesday, attacks were launched on opponents of military rule 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. Security forces were accused of using heavy weapons in their attacks, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. The allegations could not be independently confirmed by The Associated Press. Also read:Will Myanmar learn its lessons? Some of the protesters used homemade weapons, especially in Kalay, where defenders called themselves a “civil army,” and some were equipped with rudimentary hunting rifles. Most protests in cities and town around the country have been nonviolent, with demonstrators espousing civil disobedience. Violence by security forces was also reported Friday in several other areas, including Loikaw, the capital of Kayah sate in the east, where live ammunition was employed, according to numerous social media posts. At least 614 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces through Thursday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. At a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, a spokesman for the ruling junta defended the actions of the security forces. Also read:Myanmar cuts wireless internet service amid coup protests Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, when asked about reports that automatic weapons have been fired at protesters, replied that if that were the case, 500 people would have been killed in just a few hours. He challenged the death toll issued by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and said the government’s tally was 248. He also said 16 policemen had been killed. Asked about air strikes carried out by government jets on territory held by guerrillas from the Karen ethnic minority in eastern Myanmar, which reportedly killed at least 14 civilians, Zaw Min Tun said the aerial raids allowed more exact targeting than ground attacks which would have caused more deaths. Supporters of the Karen charge that the army is carrying out a ground offensive as well, including the use of artillery.
Myanmar’s ruling junta stepped up its campaign against celebrities who support nationwide protests against its seizure of power, publishing wanted lists in the state press and warning against using their work. The move follows weeks of escalating violence by security forces in breaking up street protests against the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. At least 570 protesters and bystanders, including 47 children, have been killed since the takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests and says the true toll is likely higher. The coup reversed the country’s gradual return to democracy after five decades of military rule. Also Read: Myanmar death toll mounts amid protests, military crackdown... The lists published Sunday and Monday in the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper include actors, musicians and social media influencers charged with violating Section 505(A) of the Penal Code for “spreading news to affect state stability.” The penalty for the offense is up to three years’ imprisonment. A chart filling most of a page lists 20 people, along with photos, hometowns and Facebook pages of each. Several actors and directors were also charged in February, but the campaign against celebrity protest supporters was stepped up last week when army-controlled Myawaddy TV broadcast a wanted list. There are now at least 60 people on such lists. Also Read: Will Myanmar learn its lessons? May Toe Khine, who describes herself in her Twitter profile as “Full Time Burmese Actress / Part Time Fashion Designer Student,” tweeted after the TV announcement that her arrest warrant was “for simply doing my job as a civilian: using my platform to speak out the truth.” “Please always pay attention to news in Myanmar until we win,” she wrote. What appears to be a leaked document from the Information Ministry advises broadcasters and production agencies of the accusations against people in the fields of literature, film, theater arts, music and journalism. It warns them not to publish or broadcast any of their work or face prosecution themselves. The April 4 document, which could not be authenticated by The Associated Press, was reported by Khit Thit Media and widely circulated on social media. Protests continued Monday around the country, but generally on a smaller scale than recently and often in ways intended to avoid confrontations. On Sunday, an “Easter Egg Strike” was held with eggs painted in support of the protests displayed in public places and online. In Dawei, a city in southeastern Myanmar that is a stronghold of the protest movement, a short march was accompanied by a motorcycle procession. In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, a memorial march for the dead was held by mourners clad in black. Separately, about 20 people gathered briefly on a city street and burned Chinese flags. Many protesters believe that Beijing backs the military regime with economic and political support, including the threat of a veto at the U.N. Security Council against international sanctions.
With security forces in Myanmar having shot dead at least 570 protesters and bystanders in the past two months, many of the country’s residents see venturing out onto the street as a brave but foolhardy act. Online, many have found a safer, more substantive way to show their defiance against February’s military takeover — virtual rummage sales whose proceeds go to the protest movement’s shadow government and other related political causes. Everything from clothes and toys, to music lessons and outdoor adventures are on sale. Foreign friends are encouraged to donate, but fundraising inside Myanmar also serves the purpose of raising political consciousness for challenging the ousting of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government. Facebook users have taken to the social network to sell off their possessions, advertising that all the money raised will go to fund the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, formed by elected members of Parliament who were blocked from taking their seats by the coup. Also read: Freed Polish journalist urges pressure put on Myanmar junta The committee styles itself as the sole legitimate government of the country, rejecting the ruling junta as without legal standing. In turn, the junta has outlawed the committee and declared it treasonous, threatening to jail not just its members but anyone supporting it. Formed from scratch shortly after the Feb. 1 coup, the CRPH needs money to carry on its organizing activities inside the country and diplomatic efforts abroad. Even as the authorities keep narrowing access to the internet, lately limited to a relatively small number of households with fiber broadband connections, deals are still available. Last week, one young woman was offering her collection of K-Pop music and memorabilia, especially of the band Exo. Anyone interested had to show her a receipt for a donation to CRPH, and the item would go to whoever gave the most. Also read: Myanmar junta deepens violence with new air attacks Another put his collection of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes up for sale. “It is not very pricey but difficult to collect. If you show me your CRPH donation slip, choose anything and I will give it to you,” his message read. One group of friends advertised their collection of novels, poems and motivational books, with proceeds again going to the democracy fight and delivery “when everything becomes stable.” And it isn’t just goods that are being hawked. Services are also on offer to help bankroll the struggle. A quick check through Facebook notices turned up a seamstress offering to sew a traditional Myanmar dress for free to those who donate $25, a musician offering lifetime guitar and ukulele lessons and an outdoor expedition leader offering to take five people on an adventure holiday. The expedition would go to the winner of a lucky draw from among receipts for donations to either the CPRH, the Civil Disobedience Movement that organizes the daily resistance activities or to help thousands of internally displaced people. Also read: Myanmar death toll mounts amid protests, military crackdown However, there’s one small caveat to that last offer — it’s advertised as being redeemable “after the revolution.”
Before each rainy season Lu Lu Aung and other farmers living in a camp for internally displaced people in Myanmar’s far northern Kachin state would return to the village they fled and plant crops that would help keep them fed for the coming year. But this year in the wake of February’s military coup, with the rains not far off, the farmers rarely step out of their makeshift homes and don’t dare leave their camp. They say it is simply too dangerous to risk running into soldiers from Myanmar’s army or their aligned militias. “We can’t go anywhere and can’t do anything since the coup,” Lu Lu Aung said. “Every night, we hear the sounds of jet fighters flying so close above our camp.” The military’s lethal crackdown on protesters in large central cities such as Yangon and Mandalay has received much of the attention since the coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government. But far away in Myanmar’s borderlands, Lu Lu Aung and millions of others who hail from Myanmar’s minority ethnic groups are facing increasing uncertainty and waning security as longstanding conflicts between the military and minority guerrilla armies flare anew. Also read: Freed Polish journalist urges pressure put on Myanmar junta It’s a situation that was thrust to the forefront over the past week as the military launched deadly airstrikes against ethnic Karen guerrillas in their homeland on the eastern border, displacing thousands and sending civilians fleeing into neighboring Thailand. Several of the rebel armies have threatened to join forces if the killing of civilians doesn’t stop, while a group made up of members of the deposed government has floated the idea of creating a new army that includes rebel groups. The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, meanwhile, has warned the country faces the possibility of civil war. Ethnic minorities make up about 40% of Myanmar’s 52 million people, but the central government and the military leadership have long been dominated by the country’s Burman ethnic majority. Since independence from Britain in 1948, more than a dozen ethnic groups have been seeking greater autonomy, with some maintaining their own independent armies. That has put them at odds with Myanmar’s ultranationalist generals, who have long seen any ceding of territory — especially those in border areas that are often rich in natural resources — as tantamount to treason and have ruthlessly fought against the rebel armies with only occasional periods of ceasefire. Also read: Myanmar junta deepens violence with new air attacks The violence has led to accusations of abuses against all sides, such as arbitrary taxes on civilians and forced recruitment, and according to the United Nations has displaced some 239,000 people since 2011 alone. That doesn’t include the more than 800,000 minority Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh to escape a military campaign the U.N. has called ethnic cleansing. Since February anti-coup protests have taken place in every border state, and security forces have responded much as they have elsewhere with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. But residents and observers say the post-coup situation in geographically isolated borderlands has been made worse by increased skirmishes between the military and armed ethnic organizations jockeying for power and territory. Also read: Myanmar death toll mounts amid protests, military crackdown Lu Lu Aung, who hails from the Kachin ethnic group, said she participated in protests, but stopped as it was now too dangerous. She said Myanmar security forces and aligned militias recently occupied their old village where they planted crops and no one left the camp because they feared they would be forced into work for the army. “Our students can no longer continue the schooling and for the adults it’s so much difficult to find a job and make money,” she said. Humanitarian aid for civilians in the borderlands — already strained by the pandemic as well as the inherent difficulty outside groups face operating in many areas — has been hard it since the coup as well. Communications have been crippled, banks have closed and security has become increasingly uncertain, said the director of a Myanmar-based organization supporting displaced persons who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “There is no more humanitarian help and support,” she said. In eastern Karen State, where the airstrikes have displaced thousands, there are concerns that the arrival of rainy season could exacerbate a humanitarian situation already made difficult by reports that Thailand has sent back many of the civilians who fled. Thailand has said those who went back to Myanmar did so voluntarily. Yet there are parts of the country’s borderlands that have hardly been impacted by the coup. In Wa State, a region bordering China and Thailand that has its own government, army and ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar military, videos being shared online show life going on as usual, including the rollout of a coronavirus vaccination campaign. Near Bangladesh in coastal Rakhine State, where the Rohingya were driven from and where violent clashes with the Arakan Army group have been ongoing for years, the junta last month removed the group from its list of terrorist groups, raising hopes a lowering of hostilities. The Arakan Army, unlike a number of other armed groups, had not criticized the coup. The group, however, since released a statement that declared its right to defend its territory and civilians against military attacks, leading some to fear a fresh escalation in fighting. Other armed groups have issued similar statements. Some such as the Karen National Union have provided protection for civilians marching in anti-coup protests. Such actions have contributed to the calls for a “federal army” bringing together armed ethnic groups from across the country. But analysts says such a vision would be hard to achieve due to logistical challenges and political disagreements among the groups. “These groups are not in a position where they can provide the support against the Myanmar military needed in urban centers with large populations, or really too far outside their own regions,” said Ronan Lee, a visiting scholar at Queen Mary University of London’s International State Crime Initiative. Despite the uncertainty of what’s to come, some minority activists say they have been heartened since the coup by the increased focus on the role ethnic groups can take in Myanmar’s future. They also say there appears to be greater understanding — at least among anti-coup protesters — of the struggle minorities have faced for so long. “If there’s any silver lining in all of this, that’s it,” said one activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety.
Security forces in central Myanmar opened fire on anti-coup protesters on Saturday, killing at least two people according to local media. A human rights group said mounting violence since the Feb. 1 military takeover has killed at least 550 civilians. Of those, 46 were children, according to Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Some 2,751 people have been detained or sentenced, the group said. Also Read: Myanmar crackdown: UN chief demands firm, unified and resolute international response Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian country. The Myanmar Now news service reported government forces fired at demonstrators in Monywa city, killing at least two people. One video posted on social media showed a group of protesters carrying away a young man with what appeared to be a serious head wound, as gunfire sounded. His condition wasn’t immediately known. Also Read: Myanmar crackdown on protests, widely filmed, sparks outrage At least seven people were injured in the shooting, two of whom sustained severe wounds and were taken into custody by soldiers, Myanmar Now said, citing a member of a local rescue team. Late Friday, armed plainclothes police took five people into custody after they spoke with a CNN reporter in a market in Yangon, the country’s largest city, local media reported citing witnesses. The arrests occurred in three separate incidents. Two women reportedly shouted for help as they were being arrested, Myanmar Now reported. One police officer, who was carrying a gun, asked if “anyone dared to help them," a witness told the news service. “They pointed their pistols at everyone — at passersby and at people in the store,” a witness said of two police officers, who forcibly took away two other women in the market. Meanwhile, the Karen National Union representing the ethnic minority rebel group that has been fighting the government for decades condemned “non-stop bombings and airstrikes” against villages and "unarmed civilians” in their homeland along the border with Thailand. “The attacks have caused the death of many people including children and students, and the destruction of schools, residential homes, and villages. These terrorist acts are clearly a flagrant violation of local and international laws,” the group said in a statement. In areas controlled by the Karen, more than a dozen civilians have been killed and over 20,000 displaced since March 27, according to the Free Burma Rangers, a relief agency operating in the region. About 3,000 Karen fled to Thailand, but many have 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. More than a dozen minority groups have sought greater autonomy from the central government for decades, sometimes through armed struggle. 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. After weeks of overnight cutoffs of internet access, Myanmar’s military on Friday shut all links apart from those using fiberoptic cable, which was working at drastically reduced speeds. Access to mobile networks and all wireless — the less costly options used by most people in the developing country — remained blocked on Saturday. Myanmar languished for five decades under strict military rule, which 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.
The military launched more airstrikes Tuesday in eastern Myanmar after earlier attacks forced thousands of ethnic Karen to flee into Thailand and further escalating violence two months after the junta seized power. Thailand’s prime minister said the villagers who fled the weekend airstrikes returned home of their own accord, denying that his country’s security forces had forced them back. But the situation in eastern Myanmar appeared to be getting more, not less, dangerous. The Karen National Union, the main political body representing the Karen minority, said the airstrikes were the latest case of Myanmar’s military breaking a cease-fire agreement and it would have to respond. The attacks came as protests continued in Myanmar cities against the coup Feb. 1 that ousted an elected civilian government and reversed a decade of progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian country. Hundreds of civilians have been killed by security forces trying to put down opposition to the coup. The U.S. State Department on Tuesday ordered non-essential U.S. diplomats and their families to leave Myanmar, expecting the protests to continue. The U.S. earlier suspended a trade deal and imposed sanctions on junta leaders as well as restricted business with military holding companies. Tuesday’s air raids in eastern Myanmar killed six civilians and wounded 11, said Saw Taw Nee, head of the KNU’s foreign affairs department. Also read: Freed Polish journalist urges pressure put on Myanmar junta Dave Eubank, a member of the Free Burma Rangers, which provides medical assistance in the region, provided the same information on casualties. The KNU has been fighting for greater autonomy for the Karen people. It issued a statement from one of its armed units saying “military ground troops are advancing into our territories from all fronts” and vowing to respond. “We have no other options left but to confront these serious threats posed by the illegitimate military junta’s army in order to defend our territory, our Karen peoples, and their self-determination rights,” said the statement, issued in the name of the KNU office for the district that was first attacked on Saturday. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking before the latest air attacks, said his country is ready to shelter anyone who is escaping fighting, as Thailand has done many times for decades. His comments came a day after humanitarian groups said Thailand has been sending back some of the thousands of people who fled. Also read: Myanmar junta deepens violence with new air attacks “There is no influx of refugees yet. We asked those who crossed to Thailand if they have any problem in their area. When they say no problem, we just asked them to return to their land first. We asked, we did not use any force,” Prayuth told reporters. “We won’t push them back,” he said. ’If they are having fighting, how can we do so? But if they don’t have any fighting at the moment, can they go back first?” The governor of Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, where as many as 3,000 refugees had sought shelter, said later that those still on Thai soil were expected to return to their own country in a day or two. Protests against the junta continued in several Myanmar cities Tuesday despite its lethal crackdown that killed more than 100 people on Saturday alone. Engineers, teachers and students from the technology university in the southern city of Dawei marched without incident. The number of protesters killed in the city rose to eight with the announcement of the death of a teenager who was shot by soldiers on Saturday as he rode a motorbike with two friends. According to local media, a hospital certificate attributed his death to “serious injuries as he fell from a motorbike.” Medical workers in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, honored three of their colleagues who have been killed by security forces. The two doctors and a nurse were remembered in a simple ceremony in front of a banner with their photographs and the words “Rest In Power.” At a cemetery in the biggest city, Yangon, three families gave their last farewells to relatives killed Monday in a night of chaos in the South Dagon neighborhood. Residents said police and soldiers moved through the streets firing randomly with live ammunition. At least 510 protesters have been killed since the coup, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which counts those it can document and says the actual toll is likely much higher. It says 2,574 people have been detained, a total that includes the deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party was reelected in the November elections by a landslide. At Thailand’s Mae Sam Laep village along the Salween River, which forms the border with Myanmar, paramilitary Thai Rangers on Tuesday twice waved off a boat that had come from the other side carrying seven people, including one lying flat and another with a bandage on his head. But ambulances soon arrived on the Thai side and it landed anyway. Thai villagers helped medical staff carry the injured people on stretchers to a small clinic at a nearby checkpoint. One man had large bruises on his back with open wounds, an injury one medical staffer said could have been caused by an explosion. An elderly woman in the group had small cuts and scabs all over her face. Thai nurses in protective gear to guard against COVID-19 attended to her, testing her and others for the coronavirus. Another villager from the boat, 48-year-old Aye Ja Bi, said he had been wounded by a bomb dropped by a plane. His legs were hit by shrapnel and his ears were ringing, he said, but he was unable to travel to get help until Tuesday. The airstrikes appeared to be retaliation for an attack by guerrillas under the command of the KNU on a government military outpost in which they claimed to have killed 10 soldiers and captured eight. Tuesday’s KNU statement charged that the strikes had been planned before that. About 2,500-3,000 refugees crossed into Thailand on Sunday, according to several humanitarian aid agencies who have long worked with the Karen. They said on Monday, however, that Thai soldiers had begun to force people to return to Myanmar. “They told them it was safe to go back even though it is not safe. They were afraid to go back but they had no choice,” said a spokesperson for the Karen Peace Support Network, a group of Karen civil society organizations in Myanmar. The army has restricted journalists’ access to the area where the villagers crossed the border. Myanmar’s government has battled Karen guerrillas on and off for years — along with other ethnic minorities seeking more autonomy — but the airstrikes marked a major escalation of violence. Political organizations representing the Karen and Kachin in northern Myanmar have warned in recent weeks that junta forces have been shooting protesters in their regions and threatening a response. They were joined Tuesday by the Three Brothers Alliance, which represent the guerrilla armies of the Rakhine, Kokang and Ta-ang — also known as Palaung. The alliance said if the killing of protesters did not stop immediately, they would abandon a self-declared cease-fire and join with other groups to protect the people. The statements from the various ethnic minority groups seemed to suggest their own militaries would respond within their home regions, not in the cities of central Myanmar where the protests and the junta’s repression have been the strongest. Supporters of the protest movement are hoping that the ethnic armed groups could help pressure the junta. Protest leaders in hiding say they have held talks, but there have been no commitments.
Violence in eastern Myanmar, including air raids that drove thousands of members of the Karen ethnic minority to seek shelter across the border in Thailand, deepened Tuesday with new air attacks by the military that seized power from an elected government last month. Thailand's prime minister denied that his country's security forces had forced villagers back to Myanmar who had fled from military airstrikes over the weekend, saying they returned home on their own accord. But the situation in eastern Myanmar appeared to be getting more, not less, dangerous. Saw Taw Nee, head of the foreign affairs department of the Karen National Union, the main political body representing the Karen minority there, confirmed that new raids Tuesday left six civilians dead and 11 wounded. Dave Eubank, a member of the Free Burma Rangers, which provides medical assistance to villagers in the region, provided the same information. The attacks by Myanmar's military led the KNU to issue a statement from one of its armed units saying that the government's "military ground troops are advancing into our territories from all fronts," and vowing to respond. "We have no other options left but to confront these serious threats posed by the illegitimate military junta's army in order to defend our territory, our Karen peoples, and their self-determination rights," said the statement, issued in the name of the KNU office for the district that was first attacked on Saturday. It said the attacks were the latest in a series of actions by Myanmar's military breaking a cease-fire agreement. The KNU has been fighting for greater autonomy for the Karen people. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking before the latest air attacks, said his country is ready to shelter anyone who is escaping fighting, as it has done many times for decades. His comments came a day after humanitarian groups said Thailand has been sending back some of the thousands of people who have fled the air attacks by Myanmar's military. "There is no influx of refugees yet. We asked those who crossed to Thailand if they have any problem in their area. When they say no problem, we just asked them to return to their land first. We asked, we did not use any force," Prayuth told reporters. "We won't push them back," he said. 'If they are having fighting, how can we do so? But if they don't have any fighting at the moment, can they go back first?" The governor of Thailand's Mae Hong Son province, where as many as 3,000 refugees had sought shelter, said later that those still on Thai soil were expected to return to their own country in a day or two. The attacks are a further escalation of the violent crackdown by Myanmar's junta on protests against its Feb. 1 takeover. At least 510 protesters have been killed since the coup, according to Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which says the actual toll is likely much higher. It says 2,574 people have been detained. Protests continued Tuesday despite the deaths of more than 100 people on Saturday alone. Engineers, teachers and students from the technology university in the southern city of Dawei marched without incident. The number of protesters killed in the city rose to eight with the announcement of the death of a teenager who was shot by soldiers on Saturday as he rode a motorbike with two friends. According to local media, a hospital certificate attributed his death to "serious injuries as he fell from a motorbike." Medical workers in Mandalay, the country's second biggest city, honored three of their colleagues who have been killed by security forces. The two doctors and a nurse were remembered in a simple ceremony in front of a banner with their photographs and the words "Rest In Power." At a cemetery in the biggest city, Yangon, three families gave their last farewells to relatives killed Monday in a night of chaos in the South Dagon neighborhood. Residents said police and soldiers moved through the streets firing randomly with live ammunition. The coup that ousted the government of Aung San Suu Kyi reversed the country's progress toward democracy since her National League for Democracy party won elections in 2015 after five decades of military rule. At Thailand's Mae Sam Laep village along the Salween River, which forms the border with Myanmar, paramilitary Thai Rangers on Tuesday twice waved off a boat that had come from the other side carrying seven people, including one lying flat and another with a bandage on his head. But ambulances soon arrived on the Thai side and it landed anyway. Thai villagers helped medical staff carry the injured people on stretchers to a small clinic at a nearby checkpoint. One man had large bruises on his back with open wounds, an injury one medical staffer said could have been caused by an explosion. An elderly woman in the group had small cuts and scabs all over her face. Thai nurses in protective gear to guard against COVID-19 attended to her, giving her and others tests for the coronavirus. Another villager from the boat, 48-year-old Aye Ja Bi, said he had been wounded by a bomb dropped by a plane. His legs were hit by shrapnel and his ears were ringing, he said, but he was unable to travel to get help until Tuesday. The airstrikes appeared to be retaliation for an attack by guerrillas under the command of the KNU on a government military outpost in which they claimed to have killed 10 soldiers and captured eight. Tuesday's KNU statement charged that the strikes had been planned before that. About 2,500-3,000 refugees crossed into Thailand on Sunday, according to several humanitarian aid agencies who have long worked with the Karen. They said on Monday, however, that Thai soldiers had begun to force people to return to Myanmar. "They told them it was safe to go back even though it is not safe. They were afraid to go back but they had no choice," said a spokesperson for the Karen Peace Support Network, a group of Karen civil society organizations in Myanmar. The army has restricted journalists' access to the area where the villagers crossed the border. Myanmar's government has battled Karen guerrillas on and off for years — along with other ethnic minorities seeking more autonomy — but the airstrikes marked a major escalation of violence. Political organizations representing the Karen and Kachin in northern Myanmar have issued statements in recent weeks warning the government against shooting protesters in their regions and threatening a response. They were joined Tuesday by the Three Brothers Alliance, which represent the guerrilla armies of the Rakhine, Kokang and Ta-ang -- also known as Palaung -- minorities. The alliance condemned the killing of protesters and said if it did not stop immediately, they would abandon a self-declared cease-fire and join with other groups to protect the people. Their statement, like those of the Karen and Kachin, seemed to suggest that any military response by them would be in their home areas, not in the cities of central Myanmar where the protests and repression have been the strongest. Supporters of the protest movement are hoping that the ethnic armed groups could help pressure the junta. Protest leaders in hiding say they have held talks, but there have been no commitments. The United States on Monday suspended a trade deal with Myanmar, also known as Burma, until a democratic government is restored in the Southeast Asian country. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the country was immediately suspending "all U.S. engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement." Under the agreement, the two countries cooperated on trade and investment issues in an effort to integrate Myanmar into the global economy, a reward for the military's decision to allow a return to democracy — a transition that ended abruptly with last month's coup. The announcement Monday doesn't stop trade between the two countries. Last week, the United States restricted American dealings with two giant Myanmar military holding companies that dominate much of that country's economy. END/AP/UNB