Myanmar Buddhist group signals break with authorities after bloody crackdown

Anti-coup demonstrators march in Nyaung-U, Myanmar March 17, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

Myanmar’s most powerful Buddhist monks’ association called on the junta to end violence against protesters and accused an “armed minority” of torture and killing innocent civilians since last month’s coup, media said on Wednesday (March 17).

In its most forthright condemnation of the military’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, the government-appointed organisation also said in a draft statement its members intended to halt activities in an apparent protest.

The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee planned to release a final statement after consulting the religious affairs minister on Thursday, the Myanmar Now news portal said, citing a monk who attended a meeting of the committee.

Monks have a long history of activism in Myanmar and were at the forefront of a 2007 “Saffron Revolution” against military rule, an uprising which, though suppressed, helped usher in democratic reforms.

Committee members could not immediately be reached for comment, but their reported stance would signal a significant rift between authorities and a group that usually works closely with the government.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1, detaining her and members of her party, drawing wide international condemnation.

Anti-coup demonstrators gesture as they march in Nyaung-U, Myanmar March 17, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

Ousted members of parliament, most from Suu Kyi’s party, pushed for a united stand against the coup in the ethnically diverse country, saying the designation of terrorist would be lifted from all autonomy-seeking insurgents fighting for democracy.

More than 180 protesters have been killed as security forces try to crush a wave of demonstrations, says activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Security forces killed a man was at a demonstration in Yangon overnight, the victim’s brother said. In the morning, protesters in one neighbourhood left rows of coconuts on a road, representing people, with a sign saying: “Give back our future!”

While the security forces have focused on stamping out dissent in the main city of Yangon, small demonstrations erupt elsewhere.

Several hundred people gathered with protest signs in Demoso in the east, Pathein in the Irrawaddy river delta and Dawei in the south on Wednesday, pictures on social media showed.

Residents of the second city of Mandalay and the central town of Monywa also reported protests.

Anti-coup demonstrators display the three-finger salute in Nyaung-U, Myanmar March 17, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

A total mobile internet shutdown made it difficult for protesters to communicate and to verify information. Very few people in Myanmar have access to Wi-Fi.

“We have to use old ways to communicate,” Chit Chit Win, a member of a women’s protest group, told Reuters from Dawei.

“We use a guerrilla protest system. We tell people to disperse if security forces come...We’re avoiding confrontation, but doing what we can.”

A junta spokesman did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

Deadly day dispute

Parts of Yangon have been placed under martial law and thousands of residents have fled the industrial suburb of Hlaingthaya where security forces killed 40 people on Sunday and Chinese-financed factories were set ablaze.

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“Here is like a war zone, they are shooting everywhere,” a labour organiser in the area told Reuters, adding that most residents were too frightened to go outside.

Workers said a dispute over pay at a Chinese-owned factory in the industrial zone turned violent on Tuesday after the owner called the security forces, who shot dead a labour leader and then at least four people.

Myanmar Now said six people were killed. Two doctors told Reuters there were still wounded people there, but the army had sealed off the area.

Chinese state media have warned that Beijing could take unspecified action if there are further attacks on Chinese-owned businesses.

Anti-coup demonstrators march in Nyaung-U, Myanmar March 17, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

Many people in Myanmar believe Beijing is backing the military. Unlike Western powers, China has not condemned the coup and, along with Russia, has prevented the UN Security Council from denouncing the military’s actions.

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France said the European Union would approve sanctions against those behind the coup next Monday.

The junta charged with treason an emissary of ousted lawmakers who are attempting to re-establish the civilian government. Sasa, who goes by a single name and is abroad, issued a statement saying he was proud to have been charged and the generals committed treason every day.

The ousted members of parliament said they recognised all insurgent groups committed to a “federal democratic union” and thanked them for giving refuge to coup opponents who had fled to their zones.

Anti-coup demonstrators display the three-finger salute in Nyaung-U, Myanmar March 17, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

The army said it took power after its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election but has not set a date.

Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained since the coup and faces various charges including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.