In a dramatic escalation in the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Myanmar, the military shot dead at least 18 people on Sunday, marking the bloodiest day since the protests began following the ouster of the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The UN Human Rights Office said it there was credible information that deadly force was used against peaceful protesters across the country as the protests entered the fourth week. "Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku," the office said in a statement.
"Police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force that - according to credible information received by the UN Human Rights Office - has left at least 18 people dead and over 30 wounded," the UN human rights office further said.
Meanwhile, the military junta justified the violent repression of protesters. The army, which said it had previously shown restraint, is facing "anarchic mobs". "Severe action will be inevitably taken" against riotous protesters, the state-run Global New Light Of Myanmar said, according to Reuters.
The Radio Free Asia said witnesses confirmed at least 15 protester deaths -- four in Yangon, three in Mandalay, four in Dawei, two protesters in Bago, and one each on Mawlamyine, the Mon State capital, and Pakokku.
However, according to some reports, the actual number of deaths could be higher. An activist group called Gen Z Revolt 2021 said at least 26 protesters were killed on Sunday. Meanwhile, th3 junta says only eight protesters were killed, while 571 were arrested the country.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, said Myanmar is like a battlefield now. "The police are arresting, beating and even shooting at the people," the cardinal said, according to the RFA.
The US embassy in Yangon called for the end of violence. "We are heartbroken to see the loss of so many lives in Myanmar. People should not face violence for expressing dissent against the military coup," a statement read.
'Blatant Disregard for International Law'
The European Union also condemned the attack on protesters. "In shooting ... unarmed citizens, the security forces have shown a blatant disregard for international law, and must be held to account. Violence will not give legitimacy to the illegal over-throwing of the democratically-elected Government," said EU High Representative Josep Borrell.
Myanmar's military took control of the country in a coup in the early hours on February 1. The country's military TV announced a state of emergency for one year and transfer of power. The military also announced that it was dismissing the present government and transferring power to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing because of "election fraud."
The coup as the culmination of tensions after the recent elections in which the military-backed party, the USDP, performed poorly whereas Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD did even better than in 2015. Following the polls, USDP started claiming that the election was won by fraudulent means. The coup thus was somewhat expected.
The coup marked a major blow to the country's transition from military rule to democracy. The country was ruled by military until 2011. That said the military's plans over the one year emergency period are still not known but it is unlikely that Suu Kyi will give up to the military's demands easily given her stubborn nature.