The Irrawaddy / The Irrawaddy

In Myanmar’s Yangon, Scenes Reminiscent of a War Zone

The Irrawaddy ...

Fire and plumes of smoke snaking over a bridge connecting Yangon and the industrial town of Hlaing Tharyar on the other side of the Hlaing River are a sign of the intensity of the violent crackdowns launched by the Myanmar regime on those protesting against it.

From these pictures taken on Tuesday, viewers could easily get the impression that Yangon had been turned into war zone; billows of smoke darkened the sky as both security forces and protesters set anything they found on the road alight to keep each other from advancing. Volleys of gunfire reverberated throughout the neighborhood.

A reporter in Yangon compared the turmoil in Yangon to Syria. He has never been to Syria, nor witnessed the carnage and ongoing civil war there. But he has followed news from Syria on television and in the newspapers, and today the unfolding crisis in Yangon, the former colonial capital, reminds him of those scenes.

Under the cover of smoke and fire, soldiers and police deployed on the bridge unleashed carnage on the anti-regime protesters on the Hlaing Tharyar side, as the area is known as an anti-regime stronghold. They randomly sprayed protesters with bullets, shooting to kill any living thing in their view. The victims included both young and old protesters, as well as people living inside their homes; mostly migrant workers who had settled in the industrial town after fleeing their hometowns in the Irrawaddy Delta after Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008.

The news shocked many. In Yangon, security forces fired shots along streets in Yangon’s South Okkalapa Township at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday and also vandalized vehicles parked on the street and smashed CCTV cameras.

Yesterday, a witness told The Irrawaddy that a man was deliberately shot dead while walking along the roadside, despite the fact that no protests were under way in the area.

Indeed, the death roll is rising. The military leaders’ past claims to follow rules of engagement and use minimum force to disperse crowds were clearly a cruel joke.

On Wednesday, Myanmar’s protest-related death toll since the military’s Feb. 1 coup looked likely to exceed 200. On Tuesday it stood at 193. In several regions and ethnic states the numbers of dead and injured are still sketchy, but they are likely much higher than reported in the media both inside and outside the country.

Martial law has now been imposed in several townships in Yangon, including Hlaing Tharyar, and security forces break into houses and beat and arrest people at will.

In some areas the protests have taken on a dramatically different atmosphere from the days following the coup. Downtown Yangon, once filled with peaceful demonstrators displaying all manner of creative opposition to the coup in a carnival-like atmosphere, is now all but deserted. The air is thick with ire, fear and desperation when protesters still took to the streets in some areas while some roads in the city belong to trucks transporting soldiers and police.

Angry youth are preparing to defend themselves with makeshift, DIY weapons, including slingshots and Molotov cocktails. Myanmar is heading to the abyss. A reporter in Yangon said it felt as if the military had loosed wild animals in the city to hunt and kill its residents.