Myanmar coup: Generals celebrated amid global fury over massacre

Mourners at the funeral for Kyaw Win Maung in Mandalay
Mourners at the funeral on Sunday for protester Kyaw Win Maung in Mandalay

The killing of more than 100 anti-coup protesters in Myanmar has drawn global outrage, with defence ministers of 12 nations condemning the military. The US accused the security forces of a “reign of terror” on Saturday, the deadliest day since last month’s coup.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and his generals still threw a lavish party that night for Armed Forces Day. On Sunday, funerals were held, with some reports the military had tried to intervene in the mourning. More than 400 people have now been killed in the suppression of protests in Myanmar since the 1 February coup. The military seized control of the South East Asian country after an election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.

The defence chiefs of a dozen nations, including the UK, on Sunday issued a rare joint statement condemning the military’s violent actions. The US, Japan and Australia were also among the signatories of a statement that said: “A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting, not harming, the people it serves.” The UK government has also urged all British nationals in Myanmar to “leave the country as soon as possible”. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the advice “follows the significant increase in violence on 27 March”.

“We were previously advising British nationals to leave unless they had an urgent need to stay,” it added. Security forces opened fire in more than 40 locations on Saturday. The commercial centre, Yangon, saw dozens of deaths, but killings were recorded from Kachin in the north to Taninthartharyi in the far south.

Demonstrators flash the three-finger salute while holding an image of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Demonstrators with an image of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Mandalay

The US said it was “horrified” by the killings. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the military of “sacrificing the lives of the people to serve the few.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply shocked” by the violence, and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called it a “new low”. UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews called for an international emergency summit. China and Russia have not joined the criticism, which means taking action through the UN Security Council – where they have vetoes, could be difficult.

The luxury military party on Saturday was held to mark the annual Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of Myanmar’s military resistance against Japanese occupation in 1945. Images from state TV shared on social media showed military officials, including Min Aung Hlaing, wearing white uniforms and bow ties, walking along a red carpet smiling, and seated at large tables for dinner. The event drew an angry response from some on social media, including Burmese activist Maung Zarni. A number of Twitter posts placed pictures of the party alongside images of victims. Earlier on Saturday, the military held a parade and heard a speech from Min Aung Hlaing, who said he wanted to “safeguard democracy” but also warned against “violent acts”.

Members of the armed forces participate in a parade during the 76th Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 27 March 2021.
The military held a parade to mark Armed Forces Day

Representatives of Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand attended. On Sunday, families held funerals for some of those killed the day before, one was for Kyaw Win Maung, who was shot dead in Mandalay. Another service in the city was held for Aye Ko, a father of four. “We are told by the neighbours that Aye Ko was shot and thrown into the fire,” one relative told AFP news agency. “He was the only one who fed the family, losing him is a great loss for the family.”

Witnesses told Reuters news agency that security forces opened fire at a funeral for a 20-year-old student in the city of Bago “While we [were] singing the revolution song for him, security forces just arrived and shot at us,” a woman who was at the service said. “People, including us, ran away as they opened fire.” There were no immediate reports of casualties. There were no reports of large-scale protests in Yangon or Mandalay, which saw the most casualties in Saturday’s crackdowns, but there were rallies in towns including Katha and Hsipaw, according to reports. Twelve deaths were recorded on Sunday by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group.

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