Myanmar police open fire, kill one; UN Security Council due to meet on crisis

Pro-democracy activists held more demonstrations in Myanmar on March 5.
Pro-democracy activists held more demonstrations in Myanmar on March 5.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON (REUTERS) - Police in Myanmar on Friday (March 5) opened fired on protesters against last month’s military coup, killing one man, as international condemnation rained down on the junta, with the UN Security Council set to discuss the crisis. 

The violence came as the junta lost a tug of war over leadership of its UN mission in New York and the United States unveiled new sanctions targeting military conglomerates after the deaths of dozens of civilian protesters.

Activists demanding the restoration of the elected government of veteran democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi held more demonstrations in several towns and cities on Friday, with a crowd of thousands marching peacefully through the second city of Mandalay. 

“The stone age is over, we’re not scared because you threaten us,” the crowd chanted. 

Later, police opened fire to break up the crowd, and one man was hit in the throat, witnesses said.

“I think he’s around 25 but we’re still waiting for family members,” a doctor who had examined the victim told Reuters by telephone.

In the main city of Yangon, police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse protesters who had been joined by about 100 doctors in white coats, witnesses said. 

A crowd also gathered in the town of Pathein, to the west of Yangon, a witness said. 

On Thursday, police broke up rallies with tear gas and gunfire in several cities but their crackdown was more restrained than on the previous day, when the UN said 38 people were killed in the bloodiest day of protests.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet demanded the security forces halt what she called their "vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters".

Ms Bachelet said more than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.

Singapore has been the most outspoken of Myanmar’s neighbours and its foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said it was a “national shame” for armed forces to use weapons against their people.

He called on the military to seek a peaceful solution but acknowledged external pressure would have only a limited impact on the situation.

Adding to a sense of unease, electricity supplies were cut in many parts of the country on Friday. A utility official later said it was due to a system failure.

A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

Frozen assets

A clash over who represents Myanmar at the UN in New York was averted - for now - after the junta's replacement quit and the Myanmar UN mission confirmed that Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun remained in the job.

The junta fired Mr Kyaw Moe Tun on Saturday after he urged countries at the UN General Assembly to use "any means necessary" to reverse the coup.

In Washington, it was unclear whether Myanmar's embassy was still representing the junta, after it issued a statement decrying the deaths of civilian protesters and called on authorities to "fully exercise utmost restraint".

One diplomat in the embassy also resigned and at least three others said in posts on social media they were joining the civil disobedience movement of strikes against the military government.

"This is encouragement for us who are going to go out on streets," wrote Facebook user U Zay Yan, responding to the news.

The UN human rights investigator on Myanmar, Mr Thomas Andrews, urged the Security Council - which meets to discuss the situation on Friday - to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the junta.

States should impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, now controlled by the military and its largest source of revenue, he said in a report.

Myanmar activists are calling for the release of Ms Suu Kyi, 75, who was detained on the morning of the coup, and recognition of her Nov 8 election victory. They also reject the junta's promise to hold new elections at an unspecified date.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the election in a landslide but the military has refused to accept the result, citing fraud. The election commission said the vote was fair.

Hundreds of people on Thursday attended the funeral of a 19-year-old woman who was shot dead at a protest while wearing a T-shirt that read "Everything will be OK". After her death, the slogan went viral as a symbol of defiance.

Sources told Reuters that Myanmar's military rulers attempted to move about US$1 billion (S$1.34 billion) held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York days after seizing power. US officials froze those funds indefinitely, they said.

The US Commerce Department designated trading curbs on Myanmar's Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs and two military conglomerates that control swathes of the economy, with interests ranging from beer to real estate.

But the measures are expected to have limited impact, as the entities are not major importers.

The United States has told China, which has declined to condemn the coup, that it expects it to play a constructive role. China has said stability is a top priority in its strategic neighbour.