BANGKOK – An army vehicle plowed into a peaceful march by anti-government protesters in military-ruled Myanmar’s biggest city, reportedly killing at least three people, witnesses and a protest organizer said.
Sunday’s march was one of at least three held in Yangon, and similar rallies were reported in other parts of the country a day ahead of an expected verdict in the first of about a dozen criminal cases against former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was toppled in a military takeover on Feb. 1.
A video posted on social media showed a speeding army truck barreling into the marchers from behind. Voices can be heard saying: “The car is coming ... Please help! It hit the children ... Oh! ... Dead! ... Run, ... run!” The video shows about a dozen people running away.
A witness told The Associated Press that the protesters had been on his street for just two minutes before the military truck hit them, leaving three people lying motionless on the road.
“About five armed soldiers got out of the vehicle and chased after the protesters,” said the witness, who insisted on anonymity for fear of arrest. “They opened fire and also arrested young people who had been hit by the car. At least 10 people were arrested.”
A worker for a local emergency rescue team, who also insisted on anonymity, said it brought two men and a woman, all in their early 20s and seriously injured, to a military hospital for treatment.
State television reported that 11 protesters had been arrested, including three injured people.
A local news service, Myanmar Pressphoto Agency, announced on Facebook that two of its reporters covering the march had been arrested. It said it appeared that photojournalist Kaung Sett Lin had been injured before being detained and that it had lost contact with TV reporter Hmu Yadanar Khet Moh Moh Tun.
Security forces have previously used cars to attack protesters since the army took power. They have also freely used live ammunition, killing about 1,300 civilians, according to a detailed list compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Several foreign embassies posted comments on social media expressing concern over the incident and reiterating calls for a return to a democratic government in Myanmar and the release of political prisoners.
“The military’s widespread use of brutal violence underscores the urgency of restoring Burma’s path to inclusive democracy,” read a statement from the U.S. Embassy, using the country's previous name. The French Embassy said the deliberate act by the security forces “cannot remain unpunished.”
The use of lethal force by the army and police has led to fewer large-scale street protests, which have been replaced by small, quickly organized marches that usually break up at the first sight of the authorities.
Sunday’s reported deaths in Yangon’s Kyeemyindaing neighborhood could not be immediately confirmed.
Another witness said that when several people came to gather their items, three more military vehicles arrived and arrested several of them.
“At least four people, including two young girls who were crying near the shoes, were arrested,” he said. “The soldiers told us to go inside or they would shoot us.”
A statement issued by the National Unity Government, an underground opposition group that has set itself up as the country’s parallel administration, decried the incident, in which it said five people were killed and more seriously injured.
“The randomized nature of the attacks -- killing and maiming indiscriminately, is no accident. The intention of the junta is clear: create as much fear and panic as possible. Inflict as much pain, trauma, and suffering as they can, without a care as to who their victims are. Reinforce the message that anyone at any time can be killed, arrested, beaten, or wounded, simply for being in the wrong place,” said the statement, signed by the group’s spokesman and minister of international cooperation, Dr. Sasa.
The statement reiterated the group’s call for international action to help oust the military government.
About 30 people took part in the march, according to a member of Yangon People’s Strike, a local resistance group that organized it. Media posted online showed the protesters carrying placards with Suu Kyi’s image, and calling for the immediate release of the country’s detained leaders.
The organizer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the threat of arrest, said the group held such protests to keep residents involved in the struggle against the military-installed government.
Militant urban guerrilla groups have also attacked officials and planted bombs, while open armed conflict has engulfed rural areas, leading to a warning the country may slide into civil war.
Since she was detained by the military, Suu Kyi has faced charges ranging from breaching coronavirus regulations to corruption. They're widely seen as contrived to discredit her and justify the military takeover.
The army claims it acted because of widespread fraud in an election in November last year. Independent observers of the polls, won overwhelmingly by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, say they saw no evidence justifying the army’s claim.