Myanmar military fires at funeral after killing 114 in the bloodiest day since coup

At least 460 people killed by military since Feb. 1, rights group reports

Protesters run from tear gas fired by security forces, as some demonstrators also let off fire extinguishers next to a barricade set up during the demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay on March 15, 2021. | STR/AFP via Getty Images

Myanmar army on Sunday opened fire at people gathered for the funeral of one of the at least 114 people who were killed by its troops the previous day for protesting against last month’s military coup. 

The junta’s violent crackdown came days after the United States imposed its most significant sanctions to date.

The funeral for a 20-year-old student named Thae Maung Maung — shot on Saturday  — took place in Bago, near the southeast Asian country’s commercial capital of Yangon, Reuters reported, quoting witnesses. No casualties were reported immediately after the firing.

“While we are singing the revolution song for him, security forces just arrived and shot at us. People, including us, run away as they opened fire,” a witness was quoted as saying.

On Friday, the junta had threatened on state-run media that it would shoot protesters “in the head or back.” And on Saturday, troops killed at least 114 people, including a 13-year-old girl, in more than 40 cities across the country, Myanmar Now reported.

The news agency noted that it was the bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 coup of Myanmar’s civilian government and the day junta leaders celebrated the 76th Armed Forces Day in the nation’s capital, Naypyidaw.

The news agency reported that numerous people were also injured on Saturday, including a 1-year-old baby shot in the eye with a rubber bullet in the Thamine area of Yangon’s Mayangone township.

On Monday, five more protesters — three in  Yangon — were killed as thousands took to the streets in towns across the country to protest what they see as being a return to military rule. 

The Burma Human Rights Network stated that after the killings on March 27, over 460 civilians had been killed since Feb. 1. Among the dead are women and children. The organization also stated that the armed forces recently used fighter jets to bomb ethnic Karen villages in response to Ethnic Armed Organizations standing with the protests. 

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 20 children have been killed in anti-coup protests since Feb. 1.

Last Thursday, the U.S. imposed sanctions and restricted American dealings with two giant holding companies connected to the Myanmar military. In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Burmese military has “taken increasingly disturbing actions aimed at their own citizens.” The United Kingdom announced similar actions. 

Alice Wairimu Nderitu, United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide; and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet have asked the Myanmar army to “immediately stop killing the very people it has the duty to serve and protect.”

In a joint statement, the two “strongly condemned the Myanmar military’s widespread, lethal, increasingly systematic attacks against peaceful protesters, as well as other serious violations of human rights since it seized power on 1 February 2021.”

Myanmar’s military has also attacked ethnic minorities, including Christians, in the various conflict zones across the country’s borders with Thailand and China in recent years. 

Christians make up just over 7% of the majority-Buddhist nation. Formerly known as Burma, the country is ranked No. 18 on Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List of 50 countries where it’s most difficult to be a Christian. 

Rights groups have warned that the military’s consolidation of power will only make things worse for religious minorities and have urged the international community to take action against the abuses being perpetrated by the military regime.

“The military is notorious for its relations with the ultranationalist ultra-Buddhist group the Ma Ba Tha,” International Christian Concern's Southeast Asia Regional Manager Gina Goh said. “The military together with Ma Ba Tha has targeted the Muslims in the country, but they also go after Christians. Once they get a hold of the power, they might resort to things they were doing before they passed the power to the civilian government. They kill. They rape minority Christians.”

The military in Myanmar controls 25% of seats in Parliament, according to the country's Constitution. Most Military leaders are nationalists who support Buddhism. 

Goh called the coup a "power play."

“The military is almost like a gang,” she said. “They can use their power to intimidate people.”

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