At least three people were killed yesterday when a Myanmar army vehicle ran at high speed into a crowd of unarmed anti-government protesters in Yangon, the latest outrage to befall the country since the military coup just over nine months ago. According to media reports, the “flash mob” protest, which assembled in Yangon’s Kyimyindaing Township ahead of today’s verdict in a case against detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was rammed by the vehicle minutes after it began.
Videos posted on social media show an army truck speeding towards the demonstrators, who beginning running in all directions shortly before the impact. According to the Associated Press, voices can be heard, saying: “The car is coming … Please help! It hit the children … Oh! … Dead! … Run, … run!” Another, taken from street perspective by one of those marching, shows the march dissolve into chaos and confusion as the vehicle scatters the. Footage shot from above shows protesters scatter back down the street, seemingly dodging fire from army soldiers.
As one anonymous protester told Reuters, “I got hit and fell down in front of a truck. A soldier beat me with his rifle but I defended and pushed him back. Then he immediately shot at me as I ran away in a zig-zag pattern. Fortunately, I escaped.”
The attack was just the latest in a seemingly endless series of brutal attacks committed by the security forces against those protesting the military’s seizure of power. Since February, at least 1,303 people have been killed by junta, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, including both committed protesters and uninvolved bystanders.
The Myanmar armed forces, or Tatmadaw, have also directed military operations against the raft of new People’s Defense Forces that have arisen in recent months to challenge the junta’s rule. In Sagaing Region, where PDFs have liberated pockets of territory from the junta, at least 414 civilians have died since the coup, according to a separate count, many of them killed at the hands of security forces.
Even in these contexts, the brutal mowing down of unarmed protesters, which has parallels to terrorist attacks elsewhere, stands as unusually cruel and callous, even by the junta’s low standards.
In a statement, the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) shadow government condemned the attacks, in which it said five people were killed. “The randomized nature of the attacks – killing and maiming indiscriminately – is no accident,” the statement said. “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.”
The move will only deepen the junta’s isolation and alienate it further from civilized international company. The European Union’s foreign affairs spokesperson called Sunday’s attack in Yangon an “act of terror” and called for “accountability for the crimes committed.” The U.S. Embassy said it was “horrified” by the reports of the incident.
Sunday’s march was one of a number held across the country yesterday ahead of the expected verdict in a case against Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In today’s brief hearing, the ousted civilian leader and Nobel laureate was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of incitement and breach of COVID-19 protocols.
These are just the first two of at least 11 charges against her. Among the others are the illegal importation and possession of walkie-talkie radios, unspecified breaches of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, and several counts of corruption – a suite of charges that carries a maximum prison term of 102 years.
Today’s guilty verdict, the junta’s attempt to assassinate politically the popular leader and press her into a forced retirement, will also likely further galvanize the resistance against the army’s rule, perpetuating the country’s downward spiral of violence.
Yesterday’s horrific attack in Yangon showed that there are few extremes to which the military government will not go in order to preserve its hold on power. Expect it to get worse, rather than better, as the country begins gradually to slip out of its control.