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Food, Fuel Prices Rising in Myanmar in Aftermath of Coup, Warns UN

Armed riot policemen charge after firing teargas a rubber bullets as anti-coup protesters abandon their makeshift barricades and run in Yangon, Myanmar, March 16, 2021.
Armed riot policemen charge after firing teargas a rubber bullets as anti-coup protesters abandon their makeshift barricades and run in Yangon, Myanmar, March 16, 2021.

The United Nations is warning that food and fuel prices in Myanmar are steadily rising due to the “current political unrest” triggered by last month’s military coup.

The world body’s food assistance branch, World Food Program (WFP), issued a statement Tuesday that rice prices have risen across the country by an average of three percent from mid-January to mid-February. But the WFP says prices have ballooned anywhere between 20-35 percent in a few townships in Kachin state, the northernmost state of Myanmar.

The agency also says the retail price of palm oil has spiked up to 20 percent since the beginning of February.

The WFP said the unrest is having a negative impact on supply chains and markets.

“These initial signs are troubling, especially for the most vulnerable people who were already living meal-to-meal,” said WFP Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson. “Coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, if these price trends continue, they will severely undermine the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.”

Martial law extended

The grim assessment comes as the junta has extended martial law in more areas of the main city of Yangon amid reports of more protesters killed by security forces.

The advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking the violence, said at least 20 people were killed Monday in shootings by security forces.

State-run MRTV news channel announced that the districts of North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan and North Okkalapa were under martial law, following a weekend of deadly protests.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he “is appalled by the escalating violence in Myanmar at the hands of the country’s military,” according to his spokesperson.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Monday the violence against protesters is “immoral and indefensible.”

Authorities late Sunday imposed martial law on Hlaingtharya, a suburb of Myanmar’s main city, after several Chinese-owned factories were set on fire and about 2,000 people had stopped fire engines from reaching the buildings, according to Reuters, quoting army-run Myawaddy television. China is seen as supportive of the Myanmar junta.

“The burning and looting of Chinese companies [are] abhorrent,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Monday. “We hope the Myanmar side will take concrete measures to protect the safety of Chinese citizens in Myanmar. The top priority is to prevent the occurrence of new bloody conflicts and to achieve an easing of the situation as soon as possible.”

Various reports quoting AAPP said most of the deaths Sunday took place in Hlaingthaya, with more than 30 people killed in the suburb.

Nationwide, the AAPP said Monday that the death toll for Sunday had reached 74, making it the bloodiest day of demonstrations against the junta that seized power in a February 1 coup. The previous deadliest day was March 3, when 38 deaths were reported across Myanmar.

Internet blocked

In an apparent bid to suppress news of the turmoil, mobile internet services were blocked Monday. Previously, the services were only turned off at night.

The blockage of the internet forced the postponement of a scheduled court hearing in the capital, Naypyitaw, for deposed de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was set to appear via videoconference, according to her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw.

Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup and faces five criminal charges, including accepting $600,000 in illegal payments plus gold bars while in office. She is also charged with illegally possessing six unregistered walkie-talkie radios, operating communications equipment without a license, violating COVID-19 protocols by holding public gatherings and attempting to incite public unrest.

The United Nations said Monday that at least 138 people have been killed since the coup more than six weeks ago, while the AAPP put the figure at 183.

Military officials have claimed widespread fraud in last November’s general election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide, as justification for the takeover. The fraud allegations have been denied by Myanmar’s electoral commission.