Myanmar Journal: Emotional Soldiers and the Red Movement
April 10 – Local media outlets report that as many as 80 people were killed in the crackdowns in Bago region, with photos and eyewitness accounts of the bodies, some dead and some alive, dragged away by soldiers. Residents claim that, in some wards, security forces have set up camp and announced that people are not allowed to leave their homes between 10am to 3pm. The use of mortar shells is now a common occurrence during the crackdowns.
(Daily round-up of the latest events in Myanmar by ThaiPBS World correspondent David Tun.)
At the same time, the oppression by the military continues. In places like South Oakkalapa, Tharkayta and North and South Dagon Township, locals report that people, and even passersby, were being beaten and fined for wearing black COVID-19 protective masks or other arbitrary reasons, such as wearing black clothing. Locals in those areas were reportedly told to uninstall home satellite receivers.
Following the brutal killings in the Bago region, the Northern Brotherhood group of ethnic armed forces, which consists of the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, attacked a police station in Naung Mon village in Shan State. Local volunteer rescue workers claim they saw at least 14 dead policemen after the battle, which villagers claimed took place between 5am and 7am. Spokespersons from each armed organization did not divulge any detailed information to the news media, but confirmed that the battle did indeed occur.
While there have been widespread calls to boycott this year’s Thingyan, or the Myanmar traditional New Year water festival, city halls and government buildings in a number of towns were seen being decorated for the festivity.
More anti-coup protest movements are being organized across Myanmar. Students and activists organized the “Red Movement” on April 10th, in honour of the fallen. Student unions and protest leaders urged people to use red paint wherever possible to be a part of the movement. In some other areas of Myanmar, movements like a “Fruit & Vegetable Strike”, only using local produce, continue to push for the boycott of Chinese fruits and vegetables.
The Chinese Embassy in Myanmar, however, said that they are in contact with all parties involved, including the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), emphasizing that they want political dialogue between all sides to occur, so that peace may return to Myanmar and continue building the fledgling democracy.
On April 9th, the military held a press briefing in Nay Pyi Taw, and admitted that there could have be mistakes or acts committed by “emotional soldiers” and that they will be investigated and punished. Brig-General Zaw Min Tun, the spokesperson for the junta, also said that the state of emergency could end as soon as 6 months, if processes are complete, but will likely extend to two years maximum, in phases of 6 months each.
As of April 10, the AAPP reports that over 700 have been killed.
April 8: Anti-coup supporters prefer a federal army over the UN resolution
Satellite dishes are being destroyed or confiscated by security forces. They were one of a few remaining ways that photos and video footage of the military’s operations could be seen by the public. The two satellite media channels, Mizzima TV and DVB are now banned.
As more government employees, who participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), get fired and evicted from their living quarters, battles against the military in ethnic states intensify.
The KNU announced that over 30,000 people have been displaced, fearing their homes will be shelled by heavy artillery or that they will get caught in the crossfire between the KNU and the military. Airstrikes, however, continue.
The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) announced that they are working on taking the multitude of crimes, allegedly committed by the military council, to international tribunals. Meanwhile, many anti-coup civilians are leaning toward reaching agreements with ethnic armed forces, so a federal army can be formed, instead of working on the UN’s lengthy R2P process.
Unexplainable incidents continue to occur in Yangon. Local ward administration offices in the city, which have been under martial law with heavy authority deployment, continue to burn during the curfew hours.
State-owned news media, such as the MRTV, continue to pin the blame on “rioting civilians”, while civilians claim that they have no reason to risk their lives by sneaking out at night to burn heavily guarded places. Most anti-coup civilians believe them to be just more cases of the junta trying to build a list of “grievances” against civilians, to justify their crackdowns, which see scores being killed daily.
A leading Myanmar actor, singer and model who has backed the country’s anti-coup protests was arrested on Thursday, reports said, as the junta hunts more than 100 celebrities for supporting the movement. The country has been rocked by daily protests since the military seized power on February 1, and the authorities have launched a bloody crackdown on dissent, with hundreds killed and more than 2,500 arrested.
The Central Bank also issued an announcement saying that all banks, which are now under close scrutiny, are to operate as normal. Most bank branches, however, remain closed and daily withdrawal limits remain in place.
Several weeks ago, local media reported that three customers, who were trying to make withdrawals from a KBZ bank, were arrested when the police were called. They were reportedly sentenced to 3 years in prison without trial.
Meanwhile, the state-owned MRTV reported that they had caught the culprit in the attack on the American Center a few days earlier. The junta government claims that Aye Thaw Kaung, owner of the famous confectionery chain, Shwe Pa Zun, had allegedly purchased a gas-powered pistol online for Kyat 1900 Lakhs (around 126 thousand USD) [sic] and had criminal intentions toward the American Center. Most netizens, however, have been discussing how neither the price of the gun nor the crime make sense. Shwe Pa Zun had previously had a falling out with other military-owned businesses in the food and beverage sector.
As part of the military’s strategy to capture anti-coup protesters on the run, the overnight guest registration law is being enforced very strictly. People are warned to report to the local administration office when a guest stays overnight, or risk both fines and jail time if found to be breaching the law. Random checks are being conducted in the middle of the night.
As of April 8th, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reports confirmed deaths are now 614.
April 6: Medics arrested, charity clinics raided
A rainy day in the city, somehow, invokes a sense of normality in Yangon, as some businesses are forced to reopen, due to the need to earn income and pressure from the military. Downtown and other areas are bustling with vehicles and people. In more suburban townships, such as Hlaing and Insein, however, flash protests continue despite the rain.
There are more reports of factories and commercial buildings being burned or exploding. While the junta government has yet to address these incidents, the public have begun to speculate that they are being conducted by the military to cause damage, in order to subdue defiant business owners and tycoons.
Additionally, more and more medics are being arrested and charitable clinics being raided.
After the warrants and subsequent arrests of celebrities and other influencers, a directive was sent to media companies, including Skynet and Forever Group, instructing them not to broadcast anything that involves anyone who has a warrants issued against them.
As anti-coup supporters call for a federal army to be formed by the CRPH, some places have taken it upon themselves to form small local resistance groups, most of them are students and youth activists.
In Myanmar’s political history, student Unions, and their umbrella organization All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), have played a key role, not only in past attempts at revolution and uprising, but also in the wider history of Myanmar. One of the most prominent members of the ABFSU was Aung San, father of now-ousted Aung San Suu Kyi.
Clarissa Ward, CNN’s correspondent, spoke to her colleagues back home about her military-sanctioned trip to Myanmar. Myanmar’s civilians praised her for reporting the situation as it is, including the arrests of the people who spoke to her. She also mentions how the military wanted to show their side of the story. She says that the situation is likely to escalate into a mass revolt and rioting, which will, as the UN fears, result in a bloodbath and more ruthless crackdowns.
April 4: Despite Junta’s announcement of a 1-month ceasefire, fighting continues
It will soon be one of the biggest annual holidays for the Myanmar people, as Thingyan, better known as the Myanmar version of the water festival, marking the arrival of a new year, will occur. As the military makes moves to encourage revellers to come out onto the streets and spend, to give the economy a much-needed boost, anti-coup protestors have started to campaign for non-participation in Thingyan festivities.
According to the AAPP, the confirmed death toll is now 564, as of April 4th.
Most major protests in Yangon have been opting for guerilla-style protests, which are less dangerous than the usual mass rallies. Local ward administrative offices and other places, such as businesses, continue to burn after curfew hours. The people accuse security forces of arson, while state-owned media constantly reports that people are rioting and burning state-owned property.
As security forces continue their crackdowns, the military also announced that its navy will be conducting exercises in the air, on and under the water from April 4th to 11th in the Bay of Bengal. An announcement, through a state-owned newspaper, says that a 15-mile area surrounding the exercise zone is off-limits as it may be dangerous.
A group of young political activists have managed to set up a radio station somewhere in Yangon, temporarily called the “Federal FM Radio” channel. For now, the channel is available in 15 townships across Yangon, but it hopes to be able to broadcast nationwide within the next month. The military-run government, however, announced that the radio station is illegal.
Meanwhile, arrest warrants have been issued for a number of social media influencers, including entertainers and artists, who have been actively campaigning for CDM. Some have already been arrested.
The fight with Ethnic armed forces
Battles across Myanmar, between ethnic armed forces (EAOs) and the military, are intensifying, despite the announcement of a 1-month ceasefire with the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
The KNU is bearing the brunt of airstrikes and bombings, especially in Thaton Township of Mon State, where both the KNU and villagers say that military forces are setting up camp near civilian areas and shooting at and shelling villages indiscriminately.
The KNU has since released multiple statements, condemning “indiscriminate attacks on civilians” and the use of civilians as human shields by setting up camps near them.
The KNU has also said that it will be protecting all Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) participants to the best of their ability.
Well-wishers from Thailand had tried to transport goods to help civilians fleeing the fighting, but were reportedly blocked by Thai authorities at first, then eventually allowed to proceed on April 5th, according to Thai online media called “The Reporters”.
In Kachin State, battles are less intense, but the KIA is launching more offensives against military targets, especially police stations and army camps near jade and other mineral mines. At least three such camps were reportedly destroyed by the KIA with around 30 security officers killed.
The KIA has also sent out a call to soldiers on the front lines, saying that they welcome deserters and defectors to their ranks.
While in Shan State, the military has yet to engage in open warfare with the EAOs, but pressure has been building. There are as many as 6,000 villagers in refugee camps, building trenches and makeshift bomb shelters in the hope of some safety.
April 2: The Flower Strike amidst pressure to return to normality
As the Myanmar authorities try to pressure big cities, such as Yangon or Mandalay, to return to normality, the central bank asks private banks to reopen and the government orders markets to open, what are being called “flower strikes” were seen many places across town. Flowers and anti-coup messages placed in remembrance of those who have lost their lives.
In the meantime, a CNN news team is on a state-sanctioned tour of Yangon. Their reporter said that power was being cut in advance of their arrival, which they suspect is to hinder the organisation of any anti-coup flash protests. They weren’t taken to places where many had participated in the flower strike, but they were taken to a market in Mingalardon Township, as an “example of normality”.
CNN said that their reporter was photographed by citizens in a “busy” market with no shoppers present. In the end, the team managed to find two women to interview. After the CNN team left, the two women were reportedly detained by plain-clothed police near the market.
The South Korean bank, which closed its branch after one of their staff was shot on the way home, has now announced the indefinite closure of all the branches in Myanmar, after the victim died from the injuries. The South Korean embassy subsequently sent out a call for all 3,500 of its citizens living across Myanmar to return home.
The Central Bank issued a statement saying that the “driver of the Shinhan bank’s transport had failed to stop when security forces flagged it down” and that “security must be provided for banking sector staff from now on.”
Meanwhile, lethal crackdowns and clashes continue across the country. In Yinmarpin Township of Sagaing Region, around 400 soldiers were brought to bear against anti-coup protests. Local villagers gathered against the military, using whatever weapons were available. Posts on social media claim that some local hunters, carrying muskets, engaged in a shoot-out.
There was reportedly an incident, sparked by an attempt to arrest a monk, named Sayadaw U Thaw Bar Ga. Witnesses said around a hundred soldiers clashed with locals, who were trying to help the monk. After the scuffle, many were left injured or missing.
Public buses were also forced to run in some townships, but passengers found themselves repeatedly stopped and checked by security forces. A bus, in one of the townships under martial law, was stopped by soldiers. The passengers were forced out of the bus at gunpoint and told to kneel at the curbside while they searched the bus.
In Yangon, security forces have resumed random raids, as locals in multiple townships report that police and soldiers showed up, despite a lack of any nighttime anti-coup movements, to fire slingshots into apartments, breaking windshields of cars and destroying any CCTV cameras they found.
The fight in ethnic states
While it is a story of protest, strikes and pressure for the return of normality, battles continue in ethnic states.
Though the junta announced a ceasefire for one month in April, the KNU reportedly came under attack in Mon State early evening. The KNU issued a statement asking the international community prevent the junta from acquiring more weapons.
More refugees have fled to Thailand and India. While the chief minister of Mizoram asked the Indian central government to allow the refugees to stay, close to 6,000 more civilians in Shan State could become war refugees. A civil society, which has been helping in refugee camps, reported that, due to the danger posed by air strikes and heavy weapons fire by the military, Shan ethnic villagers, as well as those currently in refugee camps, are now digging trenches and building makeshift bomb shelters, while others are preparing to leave the area altogether.
The AAPP reports that the confirmed death toll is now at 550, while reiterating that the real toll could be much higher.
April 1: The possibility of indefinite internet blackout
While the likelihood looms of an indefinite and total internet disconnection, which would push the nation into a total electronic communication blackout, Myanmar’s information ministry has ordered an indefinite ban on internet service provision, leaving FTTH fiber as the only remaining path to the World Wide Web.
Meanwhile, Facebook has announced a new safety feature, which allows users to lock their profiles. When locked, non-friends will not be able to enlarge, share or download the high-resolution profile or cover photos or see photos and posts, old or new, on the user’s timeline.
As April began, the Defence Services office announced that the military will suspend all operations for one month, except for instances where security peace negotiations with ethnic armed forces and continued political dialogue over all parties joining the National Ceasefire Act, as well as to celebrate the traditional New Year Thingyan festival in April.
Some people believe that, as more ethnic armed forces join the resistance and reject the junta’s nationwide operations to crackdown on dissent, the military’s funding is drying up.
The CRPH announced the official abolishment of the 2008 constitution and presented the first draft of a new one. Anti-coup protesters in Yangon responded by burning flags and copies of the constitution. While South Korean bank Shinhan has closed its doors temporarily, after one of its staff was shot by security forces.
In Kachin state, the Kachin Independence Army announced that it has successfully launched offensive operations against military camps and a police station. While, in Kayin State, the battles continue in both conflict zones and in residential areas. In Kawkareik, a military patrol was doing its rounds, when someone following on a motorbike lobbed a hand grenade at them, killing a policeman and injuring two soldiers.
The state-owned MRTV reported on a jade auction in Nay Pyi Taw, organized by the military. The images show most people not wearing facemasks. More footage, broadcast later, showed coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and other officials masked.
The AAPP reports that the confirmed death toll since February 1st is now 543.
Digital communication has become a key factor in the anti-coup movement in Myanmar, using social media applications, from the most popular platforms like Facebook to more secure messaging apps. It was, initially, a game of cat and mouse. The military government would ban social media apps, so the people used VPNs.