(Reuters) – Myanmar troops stormed an anti-coup protest camp on Wednesday, a resident said, in a pre-dawn operation that local media said killed and wounded several demonstrators, as activists defied a bloody crackdown and internet blockade by the ruling junta.
Myanmar has been in chaos since a February 1 coup that ended a brief period of civilian-led democracy and sparked nationwide protests and strikes, despite the ruling military’s use of lethal force to quell the resistance. Violence erupted as troops entered the protest site on Wednesday in the town of Kale in the Saigang region, a hotspot of unrest, where demonstrators were demanding the restoration of Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, a resident told Reuters.
News outlets cited witnesses saying there were casualties and repeated gunfire. Mizzima news outlet said three people were killed and posted pictures on Facebook of a fire burning near parked vehicles and soldiers with rifles in the street.
The Kale resident said the information was provided to him by witnesses, who took pictures of five dead bodies. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
The mostly youth-led movement’s ability to organise anti-coup campaigns and share information via social media and instant messaging has been severely hamstrung by curbs on broadband wireless internet and mobile data services.
Fixed-line services, which few in Myanmar have access to, are still available.
“Myanmar has been subject to a stepwise collapse into the information abyss since February,” Alp Toker, founder of internet blockage observatory NetBlocks told Reuters on Wednesday. “Communications are now severely limited and available only to the few.”
With print media also halted, protesters have sought workarounds to get their message across, producing their own A4-sized daily news pamphlets that are shared digitally and printed for distribute among the public.
On Tuesday, Dr Sasa, who leads a parallel government of remnants of Suu Kyi’s administration, said in a statement that its legal counsel would be submitting evidence of military atrocities to different United Nations human rights bodies.
He said lawyers for his Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) had received 180,000 items of evidence and would meet on Wednesday with representatives of an independent investigative mechanism for Myanmar.
Some 581 people, including dozens of children, have been shot dead by troops and police in almost daily unrest since the coup, and security forces have arrested close to 3,500 people, with 2,750 still detained, according to advocacy group the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
JUNTA ‘LOSING CONTROL’
Arrest warrants have been issued for hundreds of people, with the junta this week going after scores of influencers, entertainers, artists and musicians.
The country’s most famous comedian, Zarganar, was arrested on Tuesday, local media reported.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab discussed how Britain and the international community could support a Southeast Asian effort to resolve the crisis in Myanmar, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Wednesday, after meeting her British counterpart in Jakarta.
Indonesia is among several Southeast Asian countries leading a push for high-level regional talks on Myanmar.
Western countries including the United States, Britain and Australia have imposed or tightened sanctions on the generals and the military’s huge network of business monopolies in response to the coup, detentions and use of lethal force against demonstrators.
The European Union is expected to follow suit.
Russia, which has shown support for Myanmar’s ruling military council, on Tuesday said the West risked triggering civil war in the country by imposing sanctions on the military junta.
Fitch Solutions in a report issued on Wednesday said targeted Western sanctions alone were unlikely to succeed in restoring democracy. It predicted in the medium-term a violent revolution between the military on one side and an armed opposition comprised of members of the anti-coup movement and ethic militias.
Some ethnic military, which control large swathes of Myanmar’s border regions, have said they can not stand by as the junta kills people and already engaged the military in skirmishes.
Fitch said Myanmar was heading towards being a failed state.
“The escalating violence on civilians and ethnic militias show that the Tatmadaw is increasingly losing control of the country,” it said, adding that the vast majority of people backed the parallel government.