Myanmar Junta Forces Ram Protesters With Cars, Fire on Churches

Security forces in Myanmar’s largest city are ramming unarmed protesters using unmarked vehicles in what activists said was a new tactic to quell more than four months of anti-junta demonstrations.

At least six people, including a university mathematics lecturer, were arrested in Mandalay Monday after a group of protesters including Yadanarbon University students were knocked down by a group of plainclothes men in civilian cars.

“Before we started, there were about 20 motorbikes, and some cars with plainclothes men inside were moving nearby. Two of our motorcycles were then knocked down by the cars just as we became suspicious and were about to disperse,” said a member of the Anti-junta General Strike Allied Coalition.

“One of the students who got arrested later escaped. He had suffered multiple injuries after being hit by a car,” he told RFA.

Those who were hit by the car were all bleeding and some were writhing on the road after the incident, said the activist. He did not know where they were taken or how serious their injuries were.

One student was arrested along with U Htet Aung Khan, a mathematics lecturer from the University of Distance Education, he added.

The military has recently changed their tactics toward protests, halting shooting and killing demonstrators and deploying civilian cars and wearing civilian clothes instead of their uniforms.

“We are out there protesting without any weapons. We only have placards and pieces of cloth banners,” said a protest organizer, who said men were found hiding guns under their clothes.

“We just want to fight against injustice, so they shouldn’t be so cruel against us. If they want to make arrests lawfully, they should be wearing uniforms,” he said.

“Now if anything serious happens due to extreme use of force, they would deny it’s them. ‘It’s terrorism.’”

New police tactics

Last month, some members of the military joined the protests in Mandalay in the guise of Generation Z youths and made arrests.

“The military is getting worse,” said Kyaw Thiha of the Anti-junta General Strike Coalition, made up of the All Burma Federation of Students’ Unions, the Yadanarbon University Students Union, and other groups.

“We will continue to work under any circumstances, but we have to be extremely careful because of their new tactics and informers.” 

The Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP, says that since the Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 863 people in violent crackdowns on mass protests and detained, charged, or sentenced 4,880.

In several towns in Kayah and Shan states on eastern Myanmar’s border with Thailand, fighting between regime forces and local militias since May 20 has damaged eight Christian churches, killing five civilians sheltering inside, Christian leaders and relief groups said.

From May 23 to June 6, the military used heavy weapons against the local forces and damaged the Golden Temple of Jesus and Jeroblo Marian Shrine and Our Lady of Lourdes Cave in Pekon, Mother Mary’s Church in Moebye, St. Joseph’s Church in Demoso, the Catholic Church in Daw Ngan Khar Village and St. Peter’s Church in Loikaw, the witnesses aid..

A Catholic priest in Kayah’s Demoso township, the scene of weeks of heavy fighting, said the church was a “sacred religious building” that should be spared fighting.

“It’s just a building, but it hurts people in their hearts. Are they just targeting us? So I would like to appeal to both sides to not carry out such attacks in future,” the priest told RFA.

During clashes in Moebye and Pekon, local people sought safe haven in churches, but many civilians were injured as the military raided and attacked them, local residents said.

RFA called Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun for comments but the calls were not answered.

The junta’s daily newspapers and TV did not report the attacks on churches in Kayah State. 

Shocking attacks on churches

Social media posts said local People’s Defense Force militias in Kayah State are using guerrilla tactics against the troops, using homes and buildings for cover.

A spokesman for the Karenni People’s Defense Forces said their forces did not use churches where refugees were sheltering as cover.

“The KPDF is fighting them back but we haven’t used churches for cover since the first protest, or during clashes, especially now when the fighting has escalated because we are true believers of this religion,” he told RFA.

He said the military was deliberately attacking churches and homes while the KPDF stayed away from them.

According to the 2014 census, Kayah State has a population of nearly 300,000 with Christians the second largest group after Buddhists. A Catholic priest said there were a total of 194 schools in the state with 58 Catholic schools having a capacity for over 400 students and 136 smaller schools. 

Mu Nang, a Catholic in Kayah State, said she was saddened by the destruction of the churches built by their ancestors.

“We would rather have our house hit than the church,” she told RFA.

“There are people, especially the elderly, who were traumatized when the church was damaged. They have worshipped in these churches as a sacred place since they were young. They had worked very hard carrying bricks, sand, and so on to build these churches. And now they are devastated that these churches were damaged by heavy weapons like this.”

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for the parallel National Unity Government (NUG), called for international attention to the attacks on churches.

“The attacks on religious buildings is a violation of international laws of war. The shooting of people who are hiding and taking refuge in there is another serious matter,” he told RFA.

“We are now working to condemn these attacks and then we will continue to work to get the international community to get involved in stopping this kind of attacks. At the same time, we will systematically put on record these violations in order to bring the perpetrators to justice one day.”

Fighting in Kayah State since May 20 has forced more than 100,000 local residents to flee their homes and over 40,000 of them are taking shelter in 23 churches. On June 6, refugees from five churches along the Demoso-Daw Nang Kha-Moebye road were forced to flee when junta troops were deployed to the area.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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