Martial law has been declared by the Myanmar’s ruling junta in six townships in the country’s largest city, many protesters were killed over the weekend in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month’s military coup.
The State broadcaster MRTV said Monday that the Yangon townships of North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan and North Okkalapa have been put under martial law. An initial announcement was made late Sunday saying two other townships — Hlaing Thar Yar and neighbouring Shwepyitha — were being placed under martial law.
It was gathered that at least 38 people were killed Sunday and dozens were injured in one of the deadliest days of the crackdown on anti-coup protesters, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, or AAPP, an independent group tracking the toll of the violence. Several estimates from other sources gave higher figures.
Sunday’s announcement was the first use of martial law since the coup and suggested more direct military control of security, instead of local police.
The announcement said that the State Administrative Council acted to enhance security and restore law and order and that the Yangon regional commander has been entrusted with administrative, judicial, and military powers in the area under his command. The orders cover six of Yangon’s 33 townships, all of which suffered major violence in recent days.
Thirty-four of the deaths were in Yangon. Video from Hlaing Thar Yar township showed people running away after gunfire was heard at night-time. Those fleeing carried one injured person and tried to revive two others, one who seemed to be dead or dying, the footage from independent Democratic Voice of Burma showed.
Hlaing Thar Yar was the location of 22 civilian deaths Sunday, according to the AAPP, which said more than a dozen civilians were wounded and described a large number of junta forces engaged in the township.
Four other deaths were reported in the cities of Bago, Mandalay and Hpakant, according to the AAPP and local media.
In a new tactic, anti-coup demonstrators used the cover of darkness to hold mass candlelight vigils in various parts of Yangon over the weekend, including some that took place after 8 pm, when a curfew imposed by authorities starts.
The protest movement has been grounded in nonviolent civil disobedience from the start, with marches and general strikes among its main features. But some protesters have advocated stronger, more agile methods of self-defense — such as holding small rallies that are quick to disband and reunite and devising cover from fire extinguishers, billowing laundry and burning tires.
The AAPP’s tally of Sunday’s victims raised the number of civilians killed by security forces since the coup to over 100. Confirmation of the number of casualties is nearly impossible due to the security situation and a crackdown on independent media in Myanmar, but various groups have compiled tallies with similar figures.
The actual death toll is likely higher, as police apparently have seized some bodies, and some victims have had serious gunshot wounds that medical staff at makeshift clinics would be hard-pressed to treat. Many hospitals are occupied by security forces, and as a result, are boycotted by medical personnel and shunned by protesters.
Police have also aggressively patrolled residential neighbourhoods at night, firing into the air and setting off stun grenades as an intimidation tactic. They have also taken people from their homes in targeted raids with minimal resistance. In at least two known cases, the detainees died in custody within hours of being hauled away.