An unusually strongly-worded statement from the defence ministers of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Japan castigated the junta and the military in Myanmar for the oppression of its civilian population on Saturday with the activist group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, saying that live fire was directed indiscriminately at the public, even at children, leaving them among the dead on the day the country was due to celebrate its armed forces. This week, Thailand confirmed that it has set up refugee camps in Tak province to welcome up to 40,000 people including Thais working there taking flight, Myanmar nationals and foreigners seeking to escape.
Thai authorities in Bangkok and at the border with Myanmar are preparing for all contingencies as the situation in the country spirals out of control with reports that at least 100 people were gunned down by security forces on Saturday as the military there, known as the ‘Tatmadaw’, celebrated Armed Forces Day. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok says it is now reviewing the situation on a daily basis. It comes as relief flights are already leaving Myanmar with local authorities there advising all non-essential foreigners to leave via commercial routes.
The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ruled out, at this stage, any plan to evacuate Thai nationals from a rapidly deteriorating security environment in the country on its western border.
It comes as Saturday saw the bloodiest day of conflict yet in what is now turning into a popular uprising against a coup staged by the Myanmar defence forces, the Tatmadaw, on February 1st last.
Senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman says position is monitored daily by officials in Bangkok
The senior spokesman at the ministry, Tanee Sangrat, told reporters that the position is being reviewed by officials in Bangkok on a daily basis. He also revealed that there are plans in place should such an operation be necessitated.
Mr Tanee said the ministry was working closely with the Royal Thai Embassy in Yangon and an association of Thai expatriates in Myanmar’s main commercial city which is at the heart of the uprising with many townships under martial law with reports from locals that key parts of the city have now become battle zones between Myanmar’s security forces and those revolting against the army’s seizure of power.
Many in Myanmar cannot accept another junta
It comes after nearly five years of quasi-democratic rule which many in the country associated with significant economic progress.
Many fear a return to military rule which saw the country’s GDP and income per capita thwarted and driven down for decades.
At the same time, observers suggest that the army leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, fears prosecution before the International Criminal Court (ICC) if he is unseated for his role in the Rohinga genocide from October 2016 to January 2017.
Authorities in Myanmar themselves are advising non-essential personnel to leave the country at this time via international commercial flights
On Sunday, the ministry official in Bangkok pointed out that Myanmar authorities are now, themselves, advising that people with non-essential affairs in the country should leave using commercial routes.
He said Thailand would act if the situation becomes more dangerous.
‘If the situation rises to another level, the Thai authority has already prepared every step. Myanmar has already recommended that those without major activities in Myanmar should consider returning to their country by commercial aircraft. However, no country has yet informed or asked to evacuate all of its nationals,’ he said.
He also highlighted that no Thai national has yet been reported as injured from the ongoing clashes.
100 people killed on Saturday by security forces
The country, also known as Burma, saw 100 people killed by the security forces on Saturday bringing the total killed since the revolt against the coup began, to at least 423 with violent clashes being reported throughout the country but especially in Yangon.
The military in Myanmar has now resorted to the regular use of live ammunition as well as rubber bullets leaving children among the list of those killed including those who fell on Saturday.
Tatmadaw staged a celebration in front of 8 foreign delegations as General Min Aung Hlaing warns of ‘terrorism’ and ‘discipline’ as people were killed
On Saturday, the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, attempted to stage a show of force and confidence on what is Armed Forces Day which normally celebrates the uprising against Japanese forces of occupation during World War Two.
It now takes on the appearance of a grotesque PR nightmare for the illegal regime, denounced by its own UN representative Kyaw Moe Tun at the end of February.
It threatens to further sully the already darkened image of its armed forces.
The occasion, which saw eight foreign delegations fly from countries such as China and Russia including a group led by the Russian Deputy Defence Minister, Alexander Fomin, hear the army strongman, General Min Aung Hlaing, promise that there would be a return to civilian rule after elections are held under a new more ‘disciplined’ democratic regime.
General Min Aung Hlaing said that democracy was not possible without respect for the law. ‘The democracy we desire would be an undisciplined one if they pay no respect to and violate the law.’ he stated.
The military junta has consistently claimed that an election held in the country last November and won decisively by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, was marred by fraud, forcing it to act.
The army leader warned of ‘terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquillity and security’ as protests against him and his newly installed regime intensified.
12 foreign defence ministers in a scathing statement to Myanmar’s military on a day of death and carnage
His words were rebuffed by the defence ministers of 12 countries including key western aligned nations such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia as well as Japan in an unusually strong-worded statement against the atrocities being carried out by the country against its own citizens.
‘A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting, not harming, the people it serves,’ the communiqué said. ‘We urge the Myanmar Armed Forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions.’
Activist group shines a light on what is happening inside Myanmar and what happened on Saturday
A key activist group which is monitoring the activities of the military in Myanmar amidst a continued blackout on media reports, and even access to social media, is the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
It has documented the killings and injuries inflicted by the Tatmadaw as well as thousands of arrests by military units and plainclothes policemen often conducted in the dead of night.
On Saturday, it confirmed that the armed forces had killed young children in live-fire attacks.
‘Junta forces shot machine-guns into residential areas, resulting in many civilians, including six children between ten and sixteen years old, killed,’ the AAPP said.
Police are deserting their ranks in Myanmar
Amid reports of desertions from the police ranks with many being smuggled out of Myanmar into India, the military junta has deployed crack army units normally used to fight local militias and insurgencies linked with ethnic minorities, into urban centres such as Yangon.
Militia launched an air attack on Karen military after Karen National Union forces seized a military base in the state adjoining Thailand’s western border
Over the weekend, it was also reported that the military launched air attacks on the Karen National Union forces in Karen State. The state lies between Yangon and the Thai border provinces of Tak, Kanchanaburi and Mae Hong Son.
This was in response to the seizure of a military base by Karen militia forces from the military in Myanmar amid what is an escalating revolt.
The alliance between ethnic groups and those protesting in the urban areas is a very worrisome feature of this uprising for the military junta.
Public in key cities and urban centres are taking flight from the conflict and ‘battle zones’ in Yangon
Throughout Myanmar, there are reports of local populations in cities such as Yangon taking flight, at this time, with heavy traffic on the roads away from the conflict and a sense of unease and insecurity.
Residents from Yangon interviewed in the last week or so by the Agence France Presse revealed the harrowing experience that most people are going through.
‘I no longer feel safe and secure anymore — some nights I am not able to sleep,’ said one resident. ‘I am very worried that the worst will happen next because where I live, it is very intense, with security forces taking people from the streets.’
Another resident put it in these stark terms. ‘We are like house rats searching for something to eat in another person’s kitchen,’ he said.
Chinese nationals and business concerns attacked
The protests have also seen protesters target Chinese investors and developers who have established business concerns in the country.
Last week, a Burmese shop steward, a woman, was executed by the military as she struggled with military personnel who had assaulted her during a confrontation with a Chinese factory owner
The situation on the ground has seen many westerners taking flight from the country even resorting to exiting through illegal channels.
UK man and Chinese girlfriend fled Myanmar
Just over a week after the coup, in February, UK teacher Ian Richmond fled from his home of 2 years in Myanmar’s Shan State with his Chinese girlfriend Xiaoulu.
He crossed into Laos by rubber dinghy and sparked alarm after he went out of contact with friends in Myanmar, the UK and across the world to reach safety.
He gave some idea of the fear that is stalking the country.
‘The army has turned off the CCTV in towns and cities, they have blocked transport radio and thousands of people have been arrested,’ Ian explained. ‘Every night crowds are banging pots and pans in growing numbers in protest and to ward off evil spirits, which is the army.’
Australians placed under arrest this week after being pulled off a relief flight leaving Yangon by police
Two Australian citizens, this week, however, were not so fortunate and found themselves detained and placed under house arrest after they attempted to flee the conditions in Yangon.
They were named as Matthew O’Kane and Christa Avery who also holds Canadian citizenship
The two are engaged in running a small consultancy business in Myanmar’s largest city.
Both the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its Canadian counterpart have confirmed that they are providing ‘consular services’ to the pair at this time.
Australia aide to Aung San Suu Kyi placed under house arrest at the outset of the coup in February
At the outset of the coup, Mr Sean Turnell, an Australian economist and key advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi was also stopped from leaving the country and placed under house arrest by military authorities.
The two Australians detained this week were taken off a relief flight scheduled to take off from Yangon carrying Australian nationals home.
Thai authorities on the border and the army preparing for all eventualities as the situation worsens
Meanwhile, Thai authorities and officials in provinces near the border are preparing for any eventuality given the escalating violence and deteriorating security situation across its western border.
The 3rd Army Area command in Tak province has said that it is preparing contingency plans for health screening and other operations as it readies refugee camps to hold up to 40,000 anticipated refugees who may cross over if circumstances get out of control.
There are reported to be 23 camps ready to receive refugees.
These may include Thai nationals returning home, Myanmar nationals seeking refuge or foreigners taking flight from the chaos and disorder there.