At a military parade Saturday, the general who led the overthrow of Myanmar’s civilian government in February said the army was determined “to protect people from all danger.”
Before the day was over, the security forces under his command had shot and killed a 5-year-old boy, two 13-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girl. A baby girl in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, was struck in the eye with a rubber bullet, although her parents said she was expected to live.
The slain children were among dozens of people killed Saturday as security forces cracked down on protests across Myanmar in what appeared to be one of the deadliest days since the February 1 coup-led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander of the Tatmadaw, as the military is known. One news outlet, Myanmar Now, put Saturday’s death toll as high as 80.
“Today is a day of shame for the armed forces,” Dr Sasa, a spokesperson for a group of elected officials who say they represent Myanmar’s government, said in a statement.
The killings took place on Armed Forces Day, a holiday honoring the Tatmadaw, which was the occasion for Min Aung Hlaing’s speech in Naypyitaw, the capital.
The general promised to pave the way for democracy, despite having rejected the results of the country’s Nov. 8 election and arrested many of those who were elected to Parliament that day. He reiterated a pledge to hold new elections but offered no timetable.
Among more than 3,000 people who have been detained by the military since the coup are the ousted civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the president, Win Myint. Their party, the National League for Democracy, won by a landslide in November.
In his speech to the assembled troops, which was broadcast on national television, Min Aung Hlaing noted that the Tatmadaw was founded by Gen. Aung San, a national hero. He did not mention that the general was Suu Kyi’s father.
The Armed Forces Day ceremony, a highlight of the year for the Tatmadaw, is usually attended by a slew of foreign diplomats. This year there were fewer, representing China and several other neighboring countries.
Also present was Russia’s deputy defense minister, Alexander Fomin, who was singled out for praise by Min Aung Hlaing. On Friday, the general gave Fomin a medal and a ceremonial sword.
Russia has been an important supplier of weapons to the Myanmar military, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it can be counted on, along with China, to block any attempt by the international body to impose sanctions on Myanmar.
The United States said Thursday that it was putting its own financial sanctions on two military-owned conglomerates that control a large segment of Myanmar’s economy.
On Saturday, the US ambassador to Myanmar, Thomas Vajda, said the security forces were “murdering unarmed civilians, including children,” and he called the bloodshed “horrifying.”
The US Embassy said shots had been fired at its cultural center in Yangon, the American Center, on Saturday. The embassy said that no one was hurt and that it was investigating.
In an apparent blow to the military on its holiday, the ethnic rebel group known as the Karen National Union said on Facebook that it had overrun and seized a Tatmadaw camp. The group posted photos of weapons it said it had seized, including what appeared to be machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Tatmadaw has fought for decades with various ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Karen. Some opposition leaders hope that urban protesters, who are mainly from the majority Bamar ethnic group, can build a coalition with the ethnic groups to resist the Tatmadaw.
The widespread killings Saturday came a day after military-run television threatened protesters with being “shot in the back and the back of the head” if they persisted in opposing military rule.
According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, which has tracked arrests and killings since the coup, about one-quarter of those killed before Saturday were shot in the head.
The killings Saturday took place in more than two dozen cities across the country. Many of the victims were bystanders.
In Meiktila, a city in central Myanmar, 14-year-old Ma Pan Ei Phyu was at home when the security forces began shooting randomly in the neighborhood, said her father, Min Min Tun. The family did not hear a shot, and they did not realize that she had been killed until she fell to the floor. She had been hit in the chest.
In Yangon, 13-year-old Maung Wai Yan Tun was playing outside when the police and soldiers arrived. Scared, he ran away and was shot, his mother told the online news outlet Mizzima. The family went to recover his body, but finding it surrounded by security forces, they dared not approach.
One of the bloodiest incidents took place in Yangon’s Dala township. On Friday afternoon, police arrested two protesters at their home.
Soon after, neighbors gathered outside the police station and demanded their release. The police responded by firing rubber bullets and stun grenades at the crowd, one witness said.
The residents retreated but returned to the police station after midnight. This time, after a lengthy standoff, the security forces opened fire with live ammunition. At least 10 people were killed and 40 injured.