meAs early as Wednesday morning, the protests that unfolded north of Okkalapa in Yangon appeared peaceful. “I saw about three or four policemen along the road, but it was quiet,” said Khin, who, like all protesters the Guardian spoke to, asked not to give his real name. Spectators cheered as the crowd passed by.
About 1,000 people, he estimated, had joined the march. Many had come in the hope of putting pressure on police resources and, by forcing them to expand further, they would protect protesters in other parts of the city. After weeks of defiant mass protests against the military coup, security forces were using increasing violence, including live ammunition, to break up the rallies.
By dusk, it was clear that the police and military response that day was the deadliest since the army took power. In all, 38 people were killed by security forces, according to UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener. Among the dead are four children.
The violence has sparked international outrage. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the military “must stop killing and jailing protesters” and the US State Department said it was “shocked.” The UN security council will meet on Friday to discuss the crisis, although China and Russia are unlikely to agree to coordinated action.
The response from security forces in northern Okkalapa intensified in the middle of the morning, Khin said, when the protesters reached a main roundabout. Police began firing tear gas and arresting protesters. The soldiers appeared to have arrived around the same time, he said.
Khin fled to safety in a nearby house. “The police were arresting people and I could hear them from where I was hiding. It was too dangerous for me to go out, ”he said. Finally he went down an alley to another neighboring house, where he waited again. Two hours later, the police were still arresting people. Inside the house where Khin sought refuge, the owner, a complete stranger, closed all the doors and told him not to leave. “I heard gunshots in the streets, but I’m not sure if they really hurt anyone,” she added.
Video apparently taken by township residents appears to show security officers shooting a man a few feet away while patrolling the area. In the images, security forces remove a civilian from a building. He is surrounded by officers and does not resist. A shot sounds and he falls to the ground. Then two members of the security forces drag him by the arms.
Furthermore, distressing CCTV footage released by Radio Free Asia showed police stopping an ambulance and detaining three doctors. The police attacked them, kicking them and hitting them with the butts of their guns.
Dozens of people were detained in northern Okkalapa, witnesses said, and held by police in front of a nearby toy store, before being loaded into vans. It is not possible to confirm how many were detained in the area. Since the coup, more than 1,700 people have been arrested across Myanmar, including 29 journalists.
In the middle of the afternoon, the protesters called for the release of the detainees and blocked the roads so that the trucks could not drive them away. “The men were in the front and we were the girls in the back,” said Hnin, who left her house around 3 in the afternoon. “A lot of people were from schools and close neighborhoods, so we knew each other. We were persuading each other to remain calm and courteous, ”he said.
It seems that more people from the municipality have joined, he said. “We said that we planned to disperse at 5pm and that we wanted the detainees released before then.”
At first, the police responded with tear gas. He then heard a series of loud noises, which he believes were machine guns and sound bombs. There were continuous shots, he said. “Many people at the front were beaten. Some people received blows to the head. We were in shock and we had to run, ”he said.
“Most people felt completely lost and confused at this time. The police just fired, did not advance, there were too many people and barricades.
“I could see people helping to transport the wounded, mostly men carrying them. I didn’t dare look around in case I was shot in the head, ”he said. He ran until he reached an alley near his house.
Zaw, another protester, had taken refuge in a nearby house until mid-afternoon. He had been hit by a smoke bomb in the morning, he said, and was struggling to open his eyes. He also described hearing continuous gunfire. When he tried to return to the crowd, he could see gunshots forward. The air was thick with tear gas, but he could see the detainees being carried away.
“We have many missing people, but we cannot confirm who is arrested, who is injured,” said Aung, also a protester. He saw four people who had been shot.
Aung sat on the street in his neighborhood until 4 a.m., ready to alert others if the military returned to raid his houses at night, something that is now common.
On Thursday, crowds gathered again and blocked roads with makeshift barricades. The protests were peaceful, Hnin said. “That has eased my anxiety,” he said, “But it’s been a pattern of having a high death toll one day and quiet for the next two. So now I’m very scared. “
Despite this, he said, he will continue to protest: “I think we will win. I think we deserve democracy ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism