Tensions in Myanmar mount after sightings of military vehicles and apparent internet shutdowns
Armored personnel carrier sightings inThe largest city and internet shutdown sparked political tension late Sunday after large numbers of people across the country broke off demonstrations to protest the military’s takeover.
Public concern has already been heightened over the past few nights as the military manipulated released criminals into nighttime violence and panic.
Ambassadors from the US, Canada and 12 European nations called on the Myanmar security forces not to use violence against those who “protest against the overthrow of their legitimate government”. They condemned the arrests of political leaders and activists and the military interference in communications.
“We support the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity,” they said in a joint statement released late Sunday evening. “The world is watching.”
The military took power on February 1, detaining the country’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her government, and preventing recently elected lawmakers from opening a new session of parliament.
The junta, led by Maj. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said it was forced to intervene because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s elections that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won in a landslide have. The state election commission rejected this claim, saying there was no evidence to back it up.
There was no official word as to why armored personnel carriers crossed the streets of Yangon in broad daylight on Sunday, moving through the busy traffic. As night fell, there were videos and other reports on social media of the movement of trucks carrying soldiers and also in downtown Mandalay.
An order from the Ministry of Transport and Communications asked mobile operators to cut the Internet connection from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Monday. It got widespread on social media, as did a notice from service provider Oredoo Myanmar that gave the same details. Several users contacted by other means confirmed that access through Myanmar’s broadband and cellular services was curtailed as planned.
Monday holds the prospect of two focal points for the political stalemate.
Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, but pre-trial detention on minor charges of owning unregistered imported walkie-talkies expires on Monday, and a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, is due to take action on her case. Your freedom is an important demand of the protest movement.
Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer asked by Suu Kyi’s party to represent her, said he was not sure she would appear in court on Monday and that could be delayed for a day. He couldn’t contact Suu Kyi.
There is also a possibility that a young woman who was shot dead during a demonstration also in Naypyitaw last week will be pronounced dead. She was on life support in a hospital in the capital and during protests in Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s two largest cities, unofficial memorial services were held for her Sunday.
Large demonstrations also took place in Naypyitaw and in far-flung parts of the country dominated by ethnic minorities.
Resistance also took place in cyberspace when a group called BrotherHood of Myanmar Hackers defaced the government’s Myanmar Digital News website and replaced the contents of its homepage with words and pictures against the military takeover.
The protesters in Yangon gathered again in front of the Chinese and US embassies. They accuse Beijing of supporting the military regime and applaud Washington’s measures to sanction the military. There have been isolated appeals for armed United States intervention on Twitter.
Other protesters carried signs urging people to boycott military-affiliated companies.
It is estimated that eight days of street demonstrations have drawn hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, despite facing a six-month sentence for violating an order prohibiting gatherings of five or more people. The same order defines a 8 p.m. curfew until 4 a.m.
Sunday’s activism came after the ruling junta issued a new order to suspend several basic civil liberties.
The order, issued late Saturday and published in state newspapers on Sunday, overrides the provisions of an existing law on security and privacy and allows authorities to conduct searches and make arrests without a court order.
It also allows for electronic and other communications to be intercepted without an arrest warrant and detainees held for more than 24 hours without judicial authorization.
Officials were very actively involved in the protests, and social media posts on Sunday showed that state railroaders had joined them, with some unsubstantiated claims that they had gone on strike.
The general public has been alarmed since the government announced an amnesty last week that resulted in the release of more than 23,000 convicts. There are many allegations on social media that some have been recruited by the authorities to engage in nightly violent activity in residential areas to spread panic, particularly by setting up fires. Some areas have responded and set up their own neighborhood observation groups.
The truth of the allegations about government-run thugs is difficult to verify, even when videos claim to show their activities. There is a historical precedent when the military released convicts to use violence and wreak havoc during a failed popular uprising against a military dictatorship in 1988.
People were also rocked by police raids carried out during curfew to seize people who oppose the coup. In several cases, local residents stormed the area in such numbers that the security forces gave up trying to catch up with their targets.
The Independent Political Prisoner Aid Association says 400 people have been detained since the coup, of which 375 are still being held.
Those detained included political leaders, government officials, civil servants, activists and student leaders. Medical personnel were selected because their community initiated the campaign against civil disobedience to the military takeover and remains in their vanguard.