Security forces search Myanmar protest district room by room

By: AFP      Published: 05:58 PM, 9 Mar, 2021
Security forces search Myanmar protest district room by room

People barricaded in a Yangon neighbourhood overnight said Tuesday that Myanmar security forces searched their homes room by room for anti-coup protesters, targeting apartments flying the flag of Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted and detained Suu Kyi last month, triggering daily protests around the country to demand the junta restore democracy.

The police and army have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown and parts of Yangon have emerged as flashpoints for violence as protesters continue to defy authorities and take to the streets.

Crowds once again flocked to central San Chaung township in the commercial hub to call for Suu Kyi's release in a Monday protest coinciding with International Women's Day.

By nightfall, security forces had sealed off a block of streets with around 200 protesters still inside, according to the UN rights office, prompting alarm from diplomatic missions and calls for their safe release.

Sharp bangs were heard coming from the area, although it was not clear if the sounds were caused by gunfire or stun grenades.

Security forces started searching apartments after a nightly internet shutdown blanketed the country at 1:00 am local time (1830 GMT), residents told AFP, particularly those flying the red and gold flag of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party on their balconies. 

One resident said her home -- which did not have any protesters hiding inside -- was searched.

"They searched every building on Kyun Taw road -- they destroyed the locks of apartment buildings if they were locked downstairs," said the resident, adding that she heard dozens were arrested.

By dawn, security forces appeared to have retreated, allowing some protesters to escape from the area.

There will be a crackdown again

San Chaung -- a bustling township known for its cafes, bars and restaurants -- has transformed since the protests began, with makeshift barricades of bamboo, sandbags, tables and barbed wire set up by protesters in an effort to slow security forces.

Tuesday morning saw brisk sales from food vendors on the streets.

"We need to finish selling our goods before 9 am -- there will be a crackdown again on the streets," said one.

Since the coup, more than 60 people have been killed as security forces have broken up anti-coup demonstrations, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group. 

The move to seal off streets in San Chaung prompted embassies in Yangon -- including those of the United States and former colonial power Britain -- to urge security forces to free the demonstrators.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for "maximum restraint", urging the "safe release of all without violence or arrests".

The Monday night raids in San Chaung came after three protesters were shot dead at rallies on a day when many shops, factories and banks closed as part of a general strike to protest against the coup.

Online television broadcaster Kamaryut Media said its office was raided Tuesday and two staff members were taken away by plainclothes officers while military vehicles waited outside.

Monday was also a dark day for independent media in the country, as security forces raided the office of Myanmar Now in Yangon.

The outlet later had its publishing licence revoked, as did independent media Mizzima, DVB, Khit Thit and 7 Day, following an information ministry order, state broadcaster MRTV said.

MRTV also provided an ominous update on the case of detained Australian economist Sean Turnell, an advisor to Suu Kyi, who was arrested a week after the putsch.

"Sean Turnell, foreign economic advisor of the previous government attempted to escape Myanmar (but was prevented). Secretive state economic data was found with him," the broadcaster said, adding officials will take action in accordance with the law.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne earlier this week called for Turnell's immediate release noting he had been detained with limited consular access for more than 30 days. 

The military has denied responsibility for loss of life in the protests and defended seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November's elections, which Suu Kyi's party won in a landslide.