Myanmar remains mired in violence two months after coup

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YANGON, April 1 (AP): Protesters in Myanmar on Thursday marked two months since the military seized power by once more defying the threat of lethal violence and publicly demonstrating against the toppling of the democratically elected government.

The February 1 coup has been met with massive public resistance that security forces have been unable to crush through escalating levels of violence, including now routinely shooting protesters. Outside efforts including sanctions imposed by Western nations on the military regime have failed to help restore peace.

In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, a group of young people shortly after sunrise on Thursday sang solemn songs honoring the more than 500 protesters killed so far. They then marched through the streets chanting slogans calling for the fall of the junta, the release of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the return of democracy.

Protests were also held in Mandalay and elsewhere.

The demonstrations followed a night of violence including police raids and several fires. In Yangon, several retail shops owned in whole or part by Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, which is an investment arm of the military, went up in flames. The shops are the targets of boycotts by the protest movement.

The crisis in the Southeast Asian nation has expanded sharply in the past week, both in the number of protesters killed and with the military launching airstrikes against the guerrilla forces of the Karen ethnic minority in their homeland on the border with Thailand. The UN special envoy for Myanmar warned the country of the possibility of a civil war.

That’s a stark reversal for Myanmar, which prior to the coup had been making slow progress toward greater democracy following decades of brutal military rule.

In areas controlled by the Karen, more than a dozen civilians have been killed since Saturday and more than 20,000 have been displaced, according to the Free Burma Rangers, a relief agency operating in the area.

In addition to those deaths, an airstrike Tuesday on a gold mine in Karen guerrilla territory on Tuesday left as many as 11 more people dead, said a local news outlet and an NGO worker in touch with residents near the site.

Saw Kholo Htoo, the deputy director for Karen Teacher Working Group, said residents told him five people were killed at the mine and another six at a nearby village. The Bago Weekly Journal also reported the attack.

David Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers confirmed that a video of the attack’s aftermath showed the gold mine and that there had been airstrikes in the area.

About 3,000 Karen villagers have fled for safety in neighboring Thailand in recent days, but many have returned under unclear circumstances. Thai authorities said those displaced went back to Myanmar voluntarily after a brief stay, but humanitarian aid groups say they are not safe and many remain in hiding in the jungle and caves on the Myanmar side of the border.

The UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, warned on Wednesday that the country faces the possibility of civil war and urged the UN Security Council to consider “potentially significant action” to restore democracy.

Burgener didn’t specify what action she considered significant, but she painted a dire picture of the military crackdown and told the council in a closed briefing that Myanmar “is on the verge of spiraling into a failed state.”

Any U.N. resolutions for concrete action such as a comprehensive ban on weapons sales to Myanmar would almost certainly be vetoed by China or Russia, who are political allies of the junta as well as major suppliers of arms to its military.

Inside Myanmar, an opposition group made up of ousted lawmakers on Wednesday declared the country’s 2008 constitution void and put forward an interim replacement charter in another challenge to the ruling junta.

 

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