On the 1st of February, the Myanmar military staged the coup and took political power. On that same day, the military detained the top government officials including President U Win Myint, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and other political activists. Days after the coup, people poured into the streets and protested peacefully against the junta. As days passed, the anti-coup protest gained momentum and became larger and larger. In cracking down the protesters, the junta coup initially used water cannons and rubber bullets, and arrested whoever they could catch on the streets but seeing that people do not fear their suppression, they began to use live ammunition.
The first protestor to be shot in the head by live ammunition was Ma Mya Thwae Thwae Khaing, 20, from Nay Pyi Daw, capital of the country on the 9th of February. After the shooting of this young lady, the anti-coup protest even grew stronger and larger. To terrorize and silence the protestors, the military coup began to kill, torture, and arrested more people. However, the protest did not wane. As the military forces were becoming more violent in whatever they did, people began to build blocks or barriers in their quarters in order to prevent the military from entering and arresting them. But the military and police forces would burn those barricades, shoot, and arrest and torture everyone they could find on the streets. In some cases, the coup forces would even shoot to the houses from the streets, destroying the private properties, cars, and burning shops. In more extreme cases, the forces shot the passing by civilians on the streets and raided the houses at night shooting the family members including children, and looting the properties of the families.
The protest may have decreased in scale, but the people would still show their repugnance for the coup in every way possible. As the protest continues days and nights in all forms, people are being killed daily in every part of the country. The 27th of March, Armed Forces Day was the bloodiest day so far with at least 114 civilians reported dead by local news services. As of 30 March, (521) people were confirmed killed by this junta coup. The death toll could have risen much higher by now. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has compiled and documented a total of (2608) people being detained in relation to the attempted military coup.
In the latest escalating conflict, the military armed forces set fires on the residential houses in Mandalay in the early mornings of 30th and 31st of March and as a result, around 500 families are now homeless and are in dire need of help. Civil war is also escalating in the ethnic armed groups’ controlled areas. As the coup forces are losing outposts to the ethnic armed groups, they used fighter jets to launch airstrikes and shelled mortars into the villages, killing some civilians and injuring many others. Fearing airstrikes, thousands of villagers fled and crossed the Salween River and sought refuge in Thailand but they were forced to return to the Myanmar side by the Thai authorities. As it is not safe to return to their villages, the villagers are now hiding in the forest under the protection of rocks.
In the coming weeks, the situation could still get worse because more ethnic armed groups are said to be preparing for civil war. The civilians and ethnic armed groups are determined to eliminate the military from the political scene. Therefore, all will fight against this common enemy. Many people are in border areas are starting to dig holes in their backyards in case of war while the people in town start to defend themselves by making home weapons.
The situation of the Friars
Yangon: St. Dominic’s house is located in the neighborhood of the retired officials and therefore, it is relatively safe and peaceful there. Unless ill-hearted informers spread rumors about our brothers there, there is no real danger of being raided. However, Shwe Pyi Thar Parish, the parish that we are taking care of, is in the conflict area. Some parishioners were arrested and killed weeks ago. As garment factories were either burned or closed down, many parishioners are now out of work. With the help of some medical volunteers, Fr. Paul visited the affected areas and gave material and spiritual assistance to them. The donation received from Hong Kong has been handed over to Fr. Paul for the relief of his parishioners. The military forces patrol and lurk around the church campus every night that Fr. Paul and his workers have to be always watchful.
Loikaw: The brothers in Loikaw are relatively safe as well. The community is not so far from infantry and artillery. Those two units of the military are in our parish territory. Though the armies have not done any physical harm to the public, they regularly patrol in their trucks on the streets in the evening and terrorize the people by throwing sound bombs (stun grenade), shooting into the air, and giving warnings to stay indoors. If the ethnic armed groups come to attack those military forces, there might be a danger for the Friars. There is also a possibility that they raid the community, because seeing the buildings, they might think that we have money. The brothers are always on the watch.
Mandalay: The brothers in Mandalay are safe. The community is 40 minutes drive from the center of Mandalay. In Sint Kaing Township, only two protestors have been killed. Compared to other places, the protest here is not so robust and the people are not united. Those who want to protest do not dare to do it actively because there are spies everywhere. As a result, the protest died down easily. The military forces have raided some villages for protesting. However, Zaw Gyi, in which the brothers live, is surrounded by other villages that it seems the coup forces do not dare to come. However, everyone in the village is terrified and always watchful.
Fr. Moses Dereh, OP
Vicar of the Provincial for the mission in Myanmar