YANGON (AFP) – The death toll in the Myanmar military’s crackdown on protesters has passed 500, as armed rebel groups yesterday threatened the junta with retaliation if the bloodshed does not stop.
World powers ramped up their condemnation of the military’s campaign against the anti-coup movement that is demanding the restoration of the elected government and the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Washington suspended a trade pact with Myanmar and United Nations (UN) Chief Antonio Guterres called for a united global front to pressure the junta after over 100 protesters were killed over the weekend.
Adding to that pressure campaign, a trio of ethnic rebel groups yesterday condemned the crackdown and threatened to fight alongside protesters unless the military reined in its violence.
Daily rallies across Myanmar by unarmed demonstrators have been met with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said it confirmed 510 civilian deaths but warned the true toll was probably significantly higher.
Yesterday, protesters in Yangon emptied rubbish bags in the streets as part of the latest action, while in the town of Muse in Shan state a 35-year-old protester was shot dead.
Three of the country’s myriad armed ethnic insurgent groups – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army (AA) – issued a joint statement threatening retaliation.
“If they do not stop, and continue to kill the people, we will cooperate with the protesters and fight back,” the statement said.
If such groups take up arms, Debbie Stothard at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) warned that the situation could degenerate into civil war.
Two dozen ethnic minority rebellions flared in Myanmar since independence from British colonial rule in 1948, fighting over autonomy, ethnic identity, drugs and natural resources.
The military sought to cut deals with some armed groups and earlier this month took the AA off the list of terrorist organisations.
But over the weekend it launched airstrikes in eastern Karen state – the first such strikes in 20 years – targetting the Fifth Brigade of the Karen National Union (KNU) after the group seized a military base.
Some 3,000 people fled through the jungle to seek safety across the border in Thailand, according to local groups.
Karen human rights activist Hsa Moo told AFP the Thai authorities had pushed the people back and accused them of blocking UN refugee officials from the area.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha insisted that there was “no influx” of refugees and that the kingdom’s authorities had not “scared them off with guns or sticks”.
Thai police said they had intercepted 10 parcels containing 112 grenades and 6,000 rounds of ammunition in northern Chiang Rai province that had been destined for Myanmar’s notorious border town Tachileik.