Myanmar’s security forces have killed at least 510 civilians in nearly two months of efforts to stop protests against a Feb. 1 coup, an advocacy group said on March 29, as thousands of people took to the streets again despite the growing toll.
Another 14 civilians were killed March 29, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said, as it also updated figures for previous days. The total killed on March 27, the bloodiest day so far, had risen to 141, figures showed.
The dead from March 29 included at least eight in the South Dagon suburb of Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, the AAPP said.
A South Dagon resident said on March 30 that security forces had been cracking down in the area overnight, raising concern of more casualties.
“There was shooting all night,” said the resident who declined to be identified.
Residents found a badly burned body on a street in the morning, the resident said, adding it was not known what had happened to the person and the military took the body away.
Despite the violence, crowds have still turned out in towns across the country, according to media and social media posts.
Military clashes with ethnic minority forces
One of the main groups behind the protests, the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, called on March 29 in an open letter for ethnic minority forces to help those standing up to the “unfair oppression” of the military.
In a sign that the call may be gaining more traction, three groups — the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Arakan Army (AA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army — called in a joint statement on March 30 for the military to stop killing protesters and resolve political issues.
If not, they said they would cooperate with all ethnic groups “who are joining Myanmar’s spring revolution” to defend themselves.
Insurgents from different ethnic groups have battled the central government for decades for greater autonomy. Though many groups have agreed to ceasefires, fighting has flared in recent days between the army and forces in both the east and north.
Heavy clashes erupted on the weekend near the Thai border between the army and fighters from Myanmar’s oldest ethnic minority force, the Karen National Union (KNU), which has also denounced the coup.
About 3,000 villagers fled to Thailand when military jets bombed a KNU area after a KNU force overran an army outpost and killed 10 soldiers, an activist group and media said.
Thai authorities denied accounts by activist groups that more than 2,000 refugees had been forced back, but a Thai official said it was government policy for the army to block them at the border and deny access to outside aid groups.
Myanmar’s military has for decades justified its grip on power by saying it is the only institution capable of preserving national unity. It seized power saying that November elections won by Suu Kyi’s party were fraudulent, an assertion dismissed by the election commission.
Thai bishops express fraternity and solidarity
In response to the ongoing crisis in Myanmar the bishops from neighboring Thailand recently issued a letter of support for Myanmar’s Catholics who are led by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon.
“It is with deep sadness and great distress that we have been following recent events in Myanmar,” said the letter signed by Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, archbishop of Bangkok and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand.
“We see too much hatred, too much violence, too much bloodshed, too much suffering. We see pain being inflicted on a peace-loving people who only seek democracy and their just rights,” the letter said.
“Their efforts are for building unity, justice, freedom and good opportunity for all citizens,” it said. “For centuries now, the members both our Churches have been good and close neighbors, living as brothers and sisters. You are suffering. We suffer with you.”
In part of his reply to the Thai bishop’s letter, Cardinal Bo wrote: “Amidst this journey through the darkness of death and mayhem, mother Church led by Pope Francis stands with us.”
The pope — who visited Myanmar in 2017 — has made repeated statements calling for an end to the bloodshed.
There are fewer than 800,000 Catholics in the predominantly Buddhist country which has a total population of 54 million people.