Yangon: Residents of a protest flashpoint district in Myanmar’s biggest city fled on flatbed trucks and tuk-tuks Tuesday after security forces escalated the use of lethal force against anti-coup protesters, despite international appeals for restraint.
Much of the country has been in uproar since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to demand a return to democracy.
Police and soldiers have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to subdue crowds in near-daily crackdowns, along with blanket nightly internet shutdowns to stop protesters from mobilising.
Monday saw fresh violence by security forces in several cities, leaving at least 20 dead, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group that has been tracking arrests and fatalities.
It followed the deadliest day so far in the six weeks since the army deposed Suu Kyi’s government, with the AAPP reporting 74 killed on Sunday after the violent suppression of anti-coup unrest across Myanmar.
Many of those deaths came from the impoverished Hlaing Tharyar township in Yangon, a garment-producing area in the commercial hub with mostly Chinese-owned factories — several of which were razed on Sunday.
The junta reacted by imposing martial law over the area and five other townships that are home to around two million people — more than a quarter of the sprawling city’s population.
Anyone arrested there faces trial by military tribunal, with sentences ranging from three years’ hard labour to execution.
Myanmar law expert Melissa Crouch said the martial law declaration effectively gave complete control to military commanders and sidelined civilian administrators and judges.
“The use of martial law is extremely troubling and… represents a significant decline in the situation in Myanmar,” the University of New South Wales academic said.
By Tuesday morning, local media outlet The Irrawaddy published photos of residents fleeing the township, crowding onto flatbed trucks stuck in columns of snaking traffic.
Some carried their pets on the back of motorbikes, while others crammed their belongings in vinyl bags on tuk-tuks.
“Migrant workers from Hlaing Tharyar are fleeing back to their home states,” reported local outlet Democratic Voice of Burma. AFP