Myanmar death toll continues to rise as junta ramps up PR push

Junta claims it will hold elections within two years

  • Myanmar death toll hits 614 and thousands incarcerated or facing charges but protesters continue to hit the streets.
  • High profile arrests continue.
  • Military junta told journalists that it will hold elections in, at the most, two years.

The military junta that took over Myanmar in a coup more than two months ago continues to solidify its position through violence, an increasing death toll and, most recently, ramped up efforts to control its message to the outside the world.

The military has limited access to the internet and is working to silence opposition voices.

On 6 April, one of the best-known comedians in the country, Zarganar or Maung Thura (his real name), for his efforts to support protesters. Zarganar, now 60, has been arrested multiple times since 1988, when he participated in an uprising against an earlier military government, the Associated Press reported. The junta has also targeted multiple people better known for their work in the arts. As per AP:

In the past week, the junta has issued arrest warrants for about 100 people active in the fields of literature, film, theater arts, music and journalism on charges of spreading information that undermines the stability of the country and the rule of law.

This week, the country’s ambassador to the United Kingdom was locked out of his office after publicly criticizing the coup. A statement issued on behalf of Ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn noted that the coup had expanded from Myanmar to London and the situation was “unacceptable and disrespectful not only to the people of Myanmar but it is also clearly disrespectful to all of democratic society in the U.K.”

The United Nations Security Council has been stuck with opposing positions. China, a permanent member, has been pushing for more diplomacy to sort out the crisis. The U.S., another permanent member, has been pushing for sanctions. Myanmar is an important part of China’s Belt and Rod Initiative and Chinese companies have emerged as big investors in the country.

A United Nations human rights expert, Christine Schraner Burgener, told the UN Security Council that the country “is on the verge of spiraling into a failed state,” AP reported. The Security Council has not yet issued a statement.

On 30 March, activists launched a “garbage strike”, asking people to leave garbage at intersections across Yangon. Over the Easter weekend, protesters used eggs to send messages and the protests continued.

Myanmar death toll continues to climb

The death toll has been climbing since the country’s military took over the government in a coup on 1 February. President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were both jailed.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an independent organization, says at least 614 people have been killed since the current unrest started and 2,857 have been arrested, charged or sentenced as of 9 April. As per the AAPP:

Yesterday, Kale and Taze Townships in Sagaing Region, and Bago Region were attacked by junta forces, 25 civilians were killed. Yet people across Burma staged protests without fear, confronting the brutality of the military dictatorship. A “Marching Shoes Strike” was held in honor of the fallen heroes in this regard.

On 28 March, security forces opened fire on a crowd that had been attending a funeral, the Associated Press reported. Some 141 people were killed on 27 March. Another 14 were killed on 29 March.

Two weeks ago, the ruling junta freed 628 people, including Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw but local media reported that on 23 March, a 7-year-old girl was killed in the city of Mandalay, the second biggest in the country, in a shooting after raids by soldiers.

In a symbolic move, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), an underground self-proclaimed government made up mostly of ousted lawmakers, proposed an interim constitution. The junta has outlawed the CRPH.

This week, the junta gave journalists from CNN, the Southeast Asia Globe and Al Jazeera access to the country as part of a tightly controlled trip. As part of interviews carried out during that trip, members of the junta said they would eventually give way to elections. CNN noted:

It is evident from the interview that Myanmar’s military leaders want the world to believe they are acting in line with the country’s laws and constitution, and say they are committed to building a “multi-party democratic country.”

The Southeast Asia Globe reported that the junta’s Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun stuck by the military’s message and said the junta was in the right to overthrow the civilian government and noted:

He refused to give an exact estimate of when the military, also known as the Tatmadaw, would allow Myanmar to return to some form of civilian rule. He walked back the initial timeline of one year, suggesting the military could extend its ongoing state of emergency order for as long as two years.

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