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UN rights office denounces military crackdown on peaceful protesters in Myanmar, says 18 killed

Protesters fall back after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in Myaynigone, central Yangon, Myanmar, on February 28, 2021.

The United Nations has lambasted the crackdown on peaceful protesters in coup-hit Myanmar, saying nearly 20 people have been killed and dozens of others wounded in the latest round of military violence.

“Police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force that – according to credible information received by the UN Human Rights Office – has left at least 18 people dead and over 30 wounded,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement on Sunday.

“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” the UN official added.

On February 1, a junta, led by Myanmar’s Commander in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, took control of the country after detaining de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as other senior figures from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party through a coup, which has drawn worldwide condemnation.

The junta, which has declared a one-year emergency across the country, claimed that it seized power after it found widespread fraud in elections held three months earlier that the NLD won in a landslide.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people in the Southeast Asian country have held numerous protest rallies almost on a daily basis against the coup leaders, demanding the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees.

Suu Kyi, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during military rule, now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.

On Sunday, security forces deployed in large numbers and opened fire in different parts of the biggest city of Yangon after firing stun grenades, tear gas canisters and shots in the air failed to disperse growing crowds.

A number of people sustained injuries and were hauled away by fellow demonstrators, leaving bloody smears on pavements, media images showed.

The dead in Yangon included a teacher who died after police swooped to break up a teachers’ protest rally with stun grenades, forcing the crowd to flee. Separately, at least three people, including a woman, were killed in the second city of Mandalay, Myanmar's Now media outlet reported.

“The people of Myanmar have the right to assemble peacefully and demand the restoration of democracy,” Shamdasani further said, adding, “These fundamental rights must be respected by the military and police, not met with violent and bloody repression.”

Last week, Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing said that authorities were using minimal force to deal with the protest rallies. However, at least 21 protesters have now lost their lives in the persisting turmoil.

The coup leaders are seeking to forcibly impose the junta’s authority, in open defiance of nationwide protests and worldwide condemnations, not just on the streets but more broadly in the civil service, municipal administration, the judiciary, the education and health sectors, and the media.

The ruling military junta attempts to bring a growing civil disobedience campaign to heel.

“The Myanmar security forces’ clear escalation in the use of lethal force in multiple towns and cities ... is outrageous and unacceptable,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

According to a report by Myanmar’s state-run MRTV television, more than 470 people were arrested on Saturday during a nationwide crackdown by police forces. It was not clear how many were detained on Sunday.

“It’s obvious they’re trying to instill fear in us by making us run and hide. We can’t accept that,” said Youth activist Esther Ze Naw, adding that people were fighting against the fear they had lived with under military rule.

Myanmar’s UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun was relieved of his duties by the junta over alleged betraying the country after he urged the world body to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup, state television announced on Saturday.  “I decided to fight back as long as I can,” he said in New York.

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