A high-ranking council of Buddhist monks in Myanmar says it is suspending all activities amid the military junta’s escalating and deadly crackdown on anti-coup demonstrators.
The 47-member State Saṅgha Maha Nayaka Committee, or Ma Ha Na, issued a statement Wednesday calling for an end to the violence, according to the news outlet Myanmar Now. The government-appointed body also called for the immediate end to arrests of unarmed civilians.
The unrest that has plagued Myanmar since the military’s overthrow of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi entered its 44th day Wednesday.
Plumes of smoke rose over an industrial area of the main city of Yangon, which has become a key battlefield in the nationwide protests against the February 1 military coup. Much of the city was placed under martial law after deadly rioting over the weekend.
The advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking the violence, says more than 200 protesters have been killed in the unrest. The group says the death toll from rioting Sunday had reached 74, making it the bloodiest day of demonstrations against the junta.
Pope pleads for peace
Pope Francis also called for an end to the bloodshed in Myanmar Wednesday, after the end of his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
The pontiff specifically mentioned “with much sadness” the young people whom he said “are losing their lives in order to offer hope to their country.”
Evoking an image of the protesters that has come to symbolize the uprising, Francis said, “Even I kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say, 'Stop the violence.' Even I open my arms and say, 'Let dialogue prevail.’”
Food, fuel prices rising
Meanwhile, 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 coup.
The world body’s food assistance branch, the World Food Program (WFP), said Tuesday that prices for rice 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, 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.”
The junta has blocked mobile internet service throughout Myanmar in an apparent bid to suppress news of the turmoil.
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.