Commentary

For Myanmar Military, Rule No. 1 in Riot Control Is Shoot to Kill

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 2 March 2021

“The military never fires into the air. It just shoots straight to hit.” That’s what Myanmar’s late dictator Ne Win said once. His words are still true. Within one month of the new military regime staging a coup on Feb. 1, its army and security forces have shot at least 21 protesters to death. Almost all of them were shot execution style—in their heads and chests.

General Ne Win said it to warn the people of Myanmar when they took to the streets to topple his military-turned-socialist regime in 1988. Tuesday was the 59th anniversary of his military coup in 1962. Over the past six decades, the military’s method of shooting to kill still seems to be its motto.

Anti-regime protesters in Yangon react to riot police’s crackdown on March 2. / The Irrawaddy

Last Sunday alone, when a general strike, named the Milk Tea Alliance, was organized across the country, at least 15 innocent people were shot to death in different places. Among them, six were shot in the head, six in the chest and another in the throat.

Ko Zin Lin Htet, 21, was one of thousands of protesters who gathered at Hledan, one of the main anti-coup protest sites in Yangon, on Sunday morning. When the military troops and police started firing at protesters, he was trying to cover his body with a wood pallet as a shield. Of course, it couldn’t protect him from a live bullet. The bullet pierced his left eye and exited at the back of his head. He died on the spot.

Ko Zin Lin Htet’s last profile picture and a vigil at the place where he died.

Right there, at the same time, Ko Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing was also shot in the chest. The 23-year-old network engineer found himself lying on the pavement after he was shot. Video footage showed that no one could rescue him, despite their best efforts, as the troops kept shooting protesters around him. He managed to ring his mother to say, “I was shot,” just before the young engineer took his last breath where he lay.

Ko Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing.

The night before his death, he posted on his Facebook account: “#How_Many_Dead_Bodies_UN_Need_To_Take_Action?” urging, “Let’s post it together.” Like other protesters, he urged the United Nations to intervene to stop the military dictatorship in the country. His profile picture on his social media account was posted together with a picture of the detained leader of the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and her quote: “The only real prison is fear and the real only freedom is freedom from fear.”

Next morning, he proved with his life that he was free from fear. His twin brother was lucky enough to survive. They came to the protest on that morning together and were later separated in the crowd before he was shot.

Soldiers take up positions during their crackdown on anti-regime protesters in Yangon on March 2. / The Irrawaddy

On the same morning in Thingangyun Township, a few miles from Hledan, Ko Hein Htut Aung, 23, and his young wife came out of their tiny house to join the general strike against the dictatorship. While crossing a road to join a protest crowd, he was fatally shot through the throat. He died on the spot just beside his beloved wife, who was pregnant with their first child.

Three of these protesters belong to Generation Z, or Gen Z, members of which have courageously and creatively been organizing varying but continuous protests across the country since soon after the military staged a coup toppling the elected ruling National League for Democracy government and arrested its leaders State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and many others.

But these young protesters are not alone in this “Spring Revolution”, as it is named by the protesters, against the military dictatorship.

One more person who sacrificed her life in Yangon on the same day was a 59-year-old teacher. In the morning, Daw Tin Nwe Yee joined the general strike together with a group of other teachers in Kyeemyindaing Township, not far from Hledan Junction.  The group of teachers wearing their teachers’ uniforms of a white shirt and green longyi (sarong) were tear-gassed and shot at with rubber and live bullets by riot police and troops. Her shoulder was hit but she died of a heart attack, as she had heart disease.

Teacher Daw Tin Nwe Yee’s last Facebook profile picture, and the scene of her shooting.

Like in Yangon, at least 10 more people—two teenage protesters in Bago, four protesters in Dawei, one protester in Pakokhu, Magawe Region, one in Mawlamyine, Mon State, and two bystanders in Mandalay—were shot dead on the same day. Almost all of them were shot in the head and chest too.

The one who was shot dead in Mawlamyine was a Muslim protester. The 21-year-old, Zin Myo Thu, aka Rashid, was hit in the head. In Dawei, video footage showed that police officers jumped with joy as they shot at their targets. Behind them, an army officer guided them on how and where to shoot.

The shooters didn’t spare bystanders either. In Mandalay on Feb. 28, two bystanders were also fatally shot in the head. One was a Muslim mother who reportedly came out to buy snacks and medicines.

In this screenshot taken from a 7day TV video record, a sniper is used during a violent crackdown on Mandalay anti-coup protesters in February.

“There are snipers,” protesters warned among themselves while the public helped keep a look out. Perhaps it was intended as a message from the military regime to terrorize all protesters across the country, to frighten them into ending their protests. But if that was the regime’s intent, it failed. The protests go on.

Even before Sunday’s general strike, at least six protesters were shot dead.

The first victim after the coup was Ma Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, who was shot on Feb. 9 in Naypyitaw. The 20-year-old woman’s head was hit by a bullet that pierced her helmet. She lost consciousness on the spot and died 10 days later. Also in Mandalay on Feb. 20, several protesters suffered fatal shots to the head and chest.

People mourn the death of 20-year-old Ma Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, the first fatality in the police crackdowns on anti-coup protests. / Facebook

The boast by Gen. Ne Win, who introduced coup d’etats to Myanmar, has remained the motto for his successor generals since 1962. In the many protests against the military dictatorship since then, thousands of peaceful demonstrators have been shot dead by the military and security forces at different times. To name a few: the 1962 anti-military regime protest; the 1974 and 1976 protests; the 1988 nationwide uprising; the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

That’s the stark difference between the Myanmar military and its counterparts in neighboring countries, especially this time. In Thailand, there have been protests against previous military regimes, and the incumbent government led by a former military general. However, they rarely kill protesters, though there have been crackdowns. At least, they refrain from shooting protesters in the head and chest with live bullets, execution style.

As a deliberate insult to those shot dead, the state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) announced on Monday that “security forces have been ordered not to use live rounds during crowd control.”

“In self-defense situations, security forces have to use crowd control-related gear, shooting only at areas below the waist,” it added.

What a cruel joke!

Myanmar’s military hasn’t changed at all over the past six decades—not just in their willingness to stage self-justified coups, but also in their deliberate targeting of peaceful protesters with “kill shots” using live bullets.

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