Displaying items by tag: Myanmar
On 27 March security forces killed over fifty protesters who defied a warning that they could be shot ‘in the head and back’ if they came out while the country's generals celebrated Armed Forces Day. ‘Today is a day of shame for the armed forces,’ said Dr Sasa, a spokesman for the anti-junta group of deposed lawmakers. Local media reported that around 3,000 people from Karen state have left the country and crossed the border into Thailand to escape the violence. Airstrikes that sent villagers fleeing into the jungle show the Myanmar situation is ‘much worse’, a humanitarian worker said. At least 114 people were killed by security forces on 29 March, including a five-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. Despite the bloodshed, protesters returned to the streets. Citizens are living amid increasing violence. People are being beaten and shot; now they face multiple airstrikes. Myanmar has not had airstrikes there for over twenty years.
Myanmar protesters burned down and looted Chinese-owned businesses in Yangon. When China's embassy asked the junta to restore order, they obliged and killed scores of demonstrators. The anti-China riots add a fresh international dimension to Myanmar's political crisis. The protesters are angry at China's thinly veiled support for Myanmar’s junta. This backlash is a big test for Beijing, a rising global power and regional heavyweight. Many believe China will not look the other way while its interests in Myanmar literally go up in flames. China has always wanted a piece of Myanmar’s earth metals and waterways. Beijing wants the generals to restart long-shelved plans for a controversial hydropower dam to generate electricity for China, which locals fear will damage the environment and force thousands to relocate. China also needs Myanmar to continue building a natural gas pipeline which will give them access to the Indian Ocean, where China is competing for maritime supremacy with India.
In what has been called Myanmar's ‘Tiananmen moment’, Sister Ann Roza knelt in front of armed security forces to stop them firing on civilians. She was giving treatment at a clinic when groups of protesters passed by; then they were fired on and beaten by the police and military. ‘I was shocked and thought today is the day I will die. I was asking and begging them not to do it and was crying like a mad person, like a mother hen protecting the chicks. I thought it would be better that I die instead of lots of people. I was crying out loud. My throat was in pain. My intention was to help people escape and be free to protest and to stop the security forces. I was begging them. At that time I was not afraid.’
Myanmar's military fired the country's ambassador to the UN after he called for the army to be removed from power. The security forces are intensifying their crackdown on protesters with live ammunition, killing many. A police major resigned in a show of solidarity with anti-coup protesters, saying, ‘I don’t want to continue serving under the current military regime.’ He had been with the Special Branch since 1989. See Christians in the country are asking for help because they have lived under military leadership for decades. They don’t want it back. But the church is not all aligned. Some think they need to be peaceful; others are more activist in nature. Please pray for the safety of Christians in Myanmar. Asian Access said, ‘If you have any way of connecting with people there, sending them words of encouragement is a huge help. You could even send messages to asianaccess.org. We could send those messages along, and say, “People are praying for you, they care about you”.’
Handicap International’s involvement in Thai refugee camps gives children the opportunity to be a cared-for child. Being a child in poverty and stress is particularly challenging if you are disabled. Since 1984, Thailand has sheltered people fleeing Myanmar’s violence in camps along the border. Some refugees were born in the camps and have never set foot outside. Most are Karen, a mixed people group without a shared language or religion. Since the 1940s, ongoing conflicts between Karen separatists and the Burmese army have forced many to flee. 400,000 Karen people are homeless. Camp conditions are extremely poor; in the past cholera and malaria have occurred. Children suffer from chronic malnutrition and respiratory infections. There is no electricity, phone signal, healthcare, or education.
An army document has been discovered instructing soldiers to ‘punish and break down’ ethnic-minority Christians and anyone objecting to the military regime. The discovery came as the army ramped up armed patrols in Karen and Kachin States. Since December 2020, the military have increased ceasefire violations in Karen State, shelling villages in order to clear land for new roads and military installations. The official document states military personnel should fire 12mm weapons (equivalent to a machine gun) at individuals or use a 38mm weapon (a gun to launch grenades) on groups of civilians. The directives include special instructions to round up any dissenting civilian doctors and nurses and to report on any local leaders who are not fully cooperating with the military. There are many Christians amongst both the Karen and the Kachin ethnic groups, and thousands of Christian villagers fled to remote jungle areas when persecution began.
The military held its first news conference since toppling the government. They said the armed forces would not remain in power for long, and would ‘hand power back to the winning party’ following another election. On 18 February the military ordered more arrests, and civil servants went on strike. Large numbers have protested for 16 days. ‘It is incredible to witness that our people are unified. People’s power must return to the people,’ actor Lu Min wrote on Facebook. Many of the country’s lawyers have joined the Red Ribbon Campaign calling for the restoration of democracy in the country. The Defend Lawyers website reported that forty barristers could face prosecution for participating in the anti-coup movement. Doctors Without Borders are ‘gravely concerned’ about the recent arrests and detentions of health care workers and other civilians. The situation has the potential to severely interrupt the lifesaving healthcare that they and others have been providing to the most vulnerable people in the country, particularly in the time of the Covid pandemic.
IJM Thailand was informed by the Myanmar embassy of a potential human trafficking and forced labour case. 18 Myanmar workers needed rescuing from a confectionery factory in Bangkok. They were illegally brought in and wanted to leave, but could not. IJM personnel, embassy staff, and other agencies went to a residential neighborhood and attempted to call out to the workers locked in the upper floors of a building behind locked gates. Eventually, one worker began to climb out over the gate and a ladder was brought to help him escape. 17 other migrant workers followed him to freedom. They will undergo Covid testing and continue to receive IJM legal and aftercare support in a safe location. Pray for the successful prosecution of their captors and traffickers.
Thousands of Christian villagers fled military bombardment in Karen State on the same day that Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was ousted from power in a military coup. The army shelled districts of mainly Christian ethnic Karen villagers, forcing them to escape into inhospitable mountainous jungle with what little they could carry. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest since Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, were overthrown three months after winning a landslide election They have been replaced with a military government. The ethnic cleansing tactics used by the army against the Kachin were condemned in a 2018 UN Human Rights Council report with many testimonies of torture, rape and other abuses by military personnel. In 2020, 100,000 predominantly Christian Kachin remained scattered across 138 refugee camps, in crowded conditions with little sanitation and at great risk from coronavirus.
Myanmar's military took power on 1 February. Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party are now under arrest. The coup ends a democratic experiment in a country where generals usually rule. In 2017 Suu Kyi shocked the West by defending the generals’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingya Muslims. But as her star faded in the West, it became brighter at home where the Rohingya are considered invaders. Riding on her popularity, her party won last November's election, intensifying tensions between the civilian government and the army. The generals only won 7% of the vote and cried election fraud, threatening to suspend the constitution if their claims were not investigated. This coup reverses the generals' declining influence in one fell swoop. The new leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, will remain in charge until 2022. Meanwhile, the economy will be crippled by fresh international sanctions, and Myanmar will become the pariah it was a decade ago. There have been widespread civilian protests against the coup, and the military have responded by shutting down Facebook ‘for the sake of stability’.