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Red Cross Appeals to Myanmar Junta as Violence Continues

FILE - A Red Cross worker is seen amid protesters against the military coup, in Dawei, Myanmar, Feb. 28, 2021, in this photo obtained from social media. (Dawei Watch/via Reuters)
FILE - A Red Cross worker is seen amid protesters against the military coup, in Dawei, Myanmar, Feb. 28, 2021, in this photo obtained from social media. (Dawei Watch/via Reuters)

The Red Cross is urging Myanmar authorities to protect its volunteers and health workers as the violence in the country continues.

In a statement Friday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies expressed its deep concerns for recent loss of lives in Myanmar.

“The IFRC urges restraint and a halt to violence across Myanmar,” its Asia Pacific regional director, Alexander Matheou, said.

“Amid the spiraling violence, the Myanmar Red Cross has confirmed that over recent days, there have been very serious incidents where Red Cross volunteers were injured and wrongfully arrested,” he said.

They are providing first aid to “wounded people, in line with fundamental principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality,” Matheou said, adding that “Red Cross volunteers should never be targeted.”

Because of mass gatherings and violence in the recent weeks, the IFRC is also very concerned about the risk that COVID-19 is spreading unabated in parts of Myanmar, the statement said.

Demonstrations against Myanmar’s military junta took place across the country again Friday and there are reports of at least one protester having been killed.

Thursday, in the wake of what the United Nations described as “the bloodiest day” since the February 1 coup, security forces opened fire and hit protesters with tear gas to break up demonstrations in the main city of Yangon and the central town of Monywa, according to Reuters.

Protests took place in Mandalay, as well, where mourners also gathered for the funeral of Kyal Sin, a 19-year-old student who was fatally shot Wednesday during demonstrations in that city. Attendees held up pictures of Kyal Sin wearing a T-shirt with the phrase “Everything will be OK” written on the front.

Kyal Sin was one of at least 38 people the United Nations says were killed across Myanmar during Wednesday’s protests. Witnesses said security forces used live ammunition, as well as rubber bullets and tear gas, to disperse the crowds.

Several people were reportedly injured, among them reporter Htet Aung Khant with VOA’s Burmese Service, who was hit by rubber bullets under his arm as he covered the protests.

“Today, it was the bloodiest day since the coup happened on the first of February,” Christine Schraner Burgener, U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, told reporters in a video call from Switzerland.

Violence condemned

In a statement Thursday, VOA denounced the deadly violence in Mandalay that also left journalists injured.

“Democracy depends on a free press and free flow of information,” said Acting VOA Director Yolanda López. “These incidents underscore, once again, threats journalists face daily around the world. VOA condemns these and other attacks that put the lives of our very brave journalists at risk and undermine a free press.”

In response to the violence, the Biden administration added two conglomerates and Myanmar ministries of defense and home affairs to a trade blacklist, meaning U.S. supplies will have to obtain hard-to-get licenses in order to ship certain items to Myanmar. The two companies are among those controlled by the military.

“The volume of trade is small, so the impact won’t be big,” William Reinsch, a former Commerce Department official, told Reuters .

The U.S. could still place the leaders of the coup on the Treasury Department's “specially designated nationals" list, which freezes assets and essentially kicks blacklisted individuals out of the U.S. banking system.”

Thomas Andrews, the U.N. human rights investigator on Myanmar, said the Security Council, during its Friday meeting, needs to impose a global arms embargo. Already, 41 countries have some form of arms embargo, and that it should include surveillance equipment, he said in his report.

He also urged the Security Council to ask the “International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute atrocities committed since the coup on 1 February and those committed against ethnic groups in years prior.”

States should impose targeted sanctions on members of the junta, including on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, which is controlled by the military and its largest source of revenue, he said in the report.

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) condemned the killings and injuries of children in the escalating violence Thursday, saying in a statement that at least five children reportedly had been killed and at least four others severely injured as of Wednesday.

UNICEF also said many children had been “exposed to harm” from tear gas and stun grenades, and that more than 500 children had been “arbitrarily detained,” many without the ability to communicate, in violation of their human rights.

Myanmar’s military overthrew the civilian government and the detentions of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party a month ago.

Schraner Burgener said she is in daily contact with Suu Kyi and the committee that represents NLD legislators, known as the CRPH (Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw). The envoy last spoke with Deputy Military Chief Soe Win on February 15 but said she sent him a long letter on Sunday. She has not received a direct response but said the military sends her information every day.

New elections

The military has claimed widespread fraud in last November’s election, which the NLD won in a landslide. Myanmar’s electoral commission has denied the claims.

Military Chief Min Aung Hlaing declared a one-year state of emergency and said new elections will be held to bring about a "true and disciplined democracy.” But he has not said when the vote would be held. Schraner Burgener said Soe Win told her those elections would happen in one year.

“He said that it is due to the constitution,” she said. “We talked also to constitutional experts, and they said it doesn’t have to be one year. But clearly, I think that was the real plan of the army.”

Schraner Burgener expressed concern that the military would conduct sham investigations of the NLD that would lead to their being banned and then the army would illegitimately win the election and stay in power. But she said while this strategy may have worked in the past, it will not work now.

“Today, we have young people who lived in freedom for 10 years. They have social media, and they are well-organized and very determined. They don’t want to go back in a dictatorship and in isolation,” she said. “So, I think the army is surprised, and maybe we have to help them come out of this situation.”

However, Schraner Burgener also said the junta is unconcerned about any response from the international community. When she warned the regime it would face “huge, strong measures” in the form of sanctions, “the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived those sanctions in the past,” referring to the military’s previous five-decade rule.

The envoy also said when she warned the regime it would face isolation, it replied, “We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.”

Escalation fears

Schraner Burgener said the situation could escalate. She pointed to the declaration by 10 of the 21-armed ethnic groups in Myanmar that they would fight back if the army attacks civilians in their regions.

“If both sides use violence, then we have a situation of a real war in Myanmar, which is in nobody’s interest,” she said.

She will brief the U.N. Security Council Friday in a closed-door meeting. She last briefed them February 2 at the first and only discussion on the situation.

In a separate development, Tin Maung Naing, who was appointed Sunday as Myanmar’s chargé d’affaires at the United Nations by the military regime, has reportedly resigned, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun was fired by the junta after denouncing the coup at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on Friday. He said he is still the ambassador because he was appointed by the democratically elected president.

The matter has now gone to the nine-member U.N. credentials committee for review.

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.