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Myanmar: Thousands take to streets as others flee

March 29, 2021

Local media reported multiple deaths in Yangon on Monday, as refugees continued to flee to Thailand. A Myanmar reporter in Bangkok told DW that violence and airstrikes this week were part of a military escalation.

Myanmar | Protest in Yangon
Image: AP Photo/picture alliance

Thousands took to the streets in Myanmar on Monday, as Myanmar security forces continued to shoot at protesters, following the deadliest day since the Febrauary 1 military coup.

Security forces killed multiple people in the main city of Yangon on Monday, witnesses and media reported, as activists called on ethnic minority forces in the nation to back their campaign against military rule.

Saturday, which also coincided with Myanmar's Armed Forces Day, saw members of the military kill over 100 protesters, spurring widespread international condemnation.

Despite the threat of violence, crowds gathered in several towns, as the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, a main protest group, urged ethnic armed organizations to "collectively protect the people" in the face of "unfair oppression."

An 'unsurprising' escalation 

Thousands have also fled Myanmar to neighboring Thailand, as the military initiates airstrikes along the country's border. The strikes in areas populated predominantly by ethnic Karen people represent another escalation in the increasingly violent crackdown.

Reporter Aye Min Thant, who recently fled Myanmar to Thailand, said that Saturday's events and subsequent violence are not surprising, and are part of the military's general escalation of violence.

"We have been seeing the military really escalate its use of violence over the past six or seven weeks, really moving up from rubber bullets and water cannons into shooting with live bullets. And now we're hearing of machine gun fire as well as bombs being dropped," Aye Min Thant, who goes by the pronoun "they," told DW.

Reporter flees Myanmar

They said that they fled Myanmar in order to avoid possible arrest. "Nearly 50 journalists have been jailed and they have come for journalists in their offices. They've raided media offices as well as people's homes to try and arrest people. And I wanted to make sure that I was able to continue doing my work even at a lower capacity."

Aye Min Thant added that the tide of the protests could turn to a more violent approach on the part of the demonstrators, as the military ramps up its crackdown. "It's quite likely that at a certain point protesters will no longer be able to remain nonviolent, or will be able to convince themselves that this is the correct strategy, especially if they don't see coordinated actions from the international community."

Myanmar journalist recounts escape to Thailand

Thousands cross into Thailand

About 2,500 people, including 200 students, have crossed the Salween River into northern Thailand's Mae Hong Son province, according to the Free Burma Rangers. An estimated 10,000 people are believed to be displaced in Myanmar's northern Karen state, the agency said.

The airstrikes taking place on the border are the first such strikes to take place in 20 years.

"This area, while it has seen smaller skirmishes, it hasn't seen any of this sort of indiscriminate violence against civilians, which is really what the bombings were," Aye Min Thant said. "It's quite likely that the fighter jets and the bombings were in retaliation for the Karen National Union attacking a military outpost."

'We don't want to talk about refugee centers'

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday acknowledged the problems along the country's border, and said his government was preparing for a possible influx of people.

"We don't want to have mass migration into our territory, but we will consider human rights, too," he said.  Asked about people who have already fled into Thailand, Prayuth said, "We have prepared some places, but we don't want to talk about the preparation of refugee centers at the moment. We won't go that far."

However, activists have reported that Thai authorities were turning back the wave of refugees fleeing Myanmar, a claim which the Thai army has denied.

As of Sunday, at least 459 people have been killed since the takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has tallied deaths it was able to verify. The true toll is thought to be higher.

lc/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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