Myanmar security forces kill 8 as Indonesia calls for end to violence

YANGON (REUTERS) – Myanmar security forces shot dead eight opponents of a Feb 1 coup on Friday (March 19), a funeral services provider said, as Indonesia sought an end to the violence and urged that democracy be restored, in an unusually blunt call from a neighbour.

Ousted lawmakers explored whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate crimes against humanity since the coup, while authorities arrested two more journalists, including a BBC reporter, media said.

Military and police have used increasingly violent tactics to suppress demonstrations by supporters of detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but that has not put off the protests, with crowds turning out again in several towns.

Security forces used teargas to disperse protesters in the central town of Aungban and later opened fire in a confrontation as they tried to clear a protesters’ barricade, media and a witness reported.

“Security forces came to remove barriers but the people resisted and they fired shots,” one witness, who declined to be identified, said from the town by telephone.

An official with Aungban’s funerary service, who declined to be identified, said eight people were killed, seven on the spot and one who was wounded and died after being taken to hospital in the nearby town of Kalaw.

The spokesman for the junta was not immediately available for comment but has said security forces have used force only when necessary. Critics have derided that explanation.

The total number killed in weeks of unrest has risen to at least 232, according to the latest report and a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

Police in the main city of Yangon forced people to clear protesters’ barricades, residents said, while demonstrators were also out in the second city of Mandalay, the central towns of Myingyan and Katha, and Myawaddy in the east, witnesses and media reported.

Western countries have condemned the coup and called for an end to the violence and for Ms Suu Kyi’s release. Asian neighbours, led by Indonesia, have offered to help find a solution but a March 3 regional meeting failed to make headway.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has long held to the principle of not commenting on each other’s internal affairs but there are growing signs the Myanmar crisis is forcing a reassessment.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo called in a speech for democracy to be restored and violence to end and for Southeast Asian leaders to meet to discuss the situation.

“Indonesia urges that the use of violence in Myanmar be stopped immediately so that there are no more victims,” Mr Jokowi, as he is affectionately known, said in a virtual address. “The safety and welfare of the people must be the top priority. Indonesia also urges dialogue, that reconciliation is carried out immediately to restore democracy, to restore peace and to restore stability.”

Accountable

Myanmar’s coup leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, took part in a video conference with regional defence chiefs on Thursday, his first international engagement since seizing power, state television showed.

During the meeting, the head of Indonesia’s armed forces, Mr Hadi Tjahjanto, expressed concern over the Myanmar situation, the Indonesian military said on its website. Indonesia’s army ruled for years but later completely withdrew from politics.

Myanmar’s UN envoy, who publicly broke with the junta, said a committee of ousted lawmakers was looking at ways people can be held accountable for violence following the coup.

In Geneva, United Nations human rights experts denounced forced evictions, arbitrary detentions and the killings of pro-democracy protesters. They said foreign governments should consider pursuing those responsible for crimes against humanity.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, is hugely popular for her decades-long campaign for democracy.

She is being detained at an undisclosed location while facing accusations of bribery and other crimes that could see her banned from politics and jailed if convicted. Her lawyer says the charges are trumped up.

The army has defended its takeover, saying its accusations of fraud in a Nov 8 election swept by Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election but not set a date.

Information within Myanmar is becoming increasingly difficult to verify after authorities have restricted the internet services that protesters use to organise and post reports and pictures.

The UN human rights office said this week about 37 journalists had been arrested, including 19 still in detention.

Two more were detained in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Friday, while covering a hearing for an arrested member of Suu Kyi’s party, said the Mizzima news portal, the employer of one of them. The other detained reporter was Aung Thura of the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC), it said. The BBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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