Calls for diplomatic intervention in Myanmar have grown after the UN said the military had killed at least 38 people in the bloodiest day of violence since a coup overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government last month.
In Yangon, the country’s largest city, security forces shot six people dead on Wednesday. Camera footage shared widely online showed police arresting three medical first responders and beating them with their guns.
In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city, Kyal Sin, a 19-year-old woman known as “Angel”, died after being shot in the head.
The UK has requested a UN Security Council meeting on Myanmar on Friday.
“The systematic brutality of the military junta is once again on horrific display throughout Myanmar,” Tom Andrews, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar wrote on Twitter. “I urge members of the UN Security Council to view the photos/videos of the shocking violence being unleashed on peaceful protesters before meeting in Friday’s close-door session.”
Ned Price, US state department spokesman, said Washington was “appalled and revulsed” by what he called “horrific violence”.
The increasing use of violence by senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s military regime has led his opponents to describe the protests as a “revolution” and many have abandoned hope that the international community will intervene.
“The outside world will just wait and see,” Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a protest leader and activist, told the Financial Times. “They forget injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
A former television youth presenter, she donned a hard-hat last month to join nationwide strikes and protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands and paralysed the country’s economy.
But as the regime has responded with intensifying crackdowns this week, the huge crowds have thinned and diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the conflict have accelerated.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has a principle of “non-interference” in members’ affairs, held its first virtual meeting with a junta representative on Tuesday. Asean has yet to formally recognised the military regime as Myanmar’s official government and called on security forces to “exercise maximum restraint” and urged “communications and dialogue” in the country.
Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia also called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release.
Analysts, however, held little hope that the regional group could broker a solution.
“The problem for Asean is that Myanmar’s armed forces have brought the bar so low — without wiggle room — with their naked seizure of power after losing yet another election in a landslide,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, referring to a ballot in November. “The Myanmar junta puts up no pretence of popular legitimacy, only a raw power grab that has turned the entire population against it.”
The remnants of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party have taken steps to form an interim government. Most of the party’s senior leadership were among the nearly 1,500 people arrested after the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a human rights group.
The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw named its first four acting “ministers” this week.
Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s permanent representative to the UN, was sacked by the junta after delivering a speech in which he urged the world to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup. The regime named his deputy Tin Maung Naing as his replacement, but who represents the country in the international body is now in dispute.
Some protesters want the UN to invoke its Responsibility to Protect principle, meant to stop atrocities, which the Security Council invoked to authorise military intervention against Libya’s Muammer Gaddafi in 2011.
Most experts believed this was unlikely, and some in Myanmar have faulted the international community — particularly western governments — for using rhetoric that misleads protesters.
“They think intervention is on the table now, and it clearly isn’t,” said Aye Min Thant, 28, a Yangon-based former Reuters journalist. “There is no world in which the UN or anyone is sending boots on the ground, and yet that’s what some people in Myanmar think.”
Follow John Reed on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites