By Reuters Staff, published by US News & World Report
THAILAND’S army has denied supplying rice to units of Myanmar’s armed forces and said today (March 20) any food being sent over the border was part of normal trade.
Myanmar’s military is facing international condemnation over a Feb. 1 coup and bloody crackdowns on protests against military rule in which nearly 250 people have been killed.
Thailand has voiced concern over the bloodshed.
Direct Thai assistance to the Myanmar military would likely draw criticism from supporters of the ousted government that was led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel peace laureate has been detained in Myanmar since the coup.
Thai media reported that the Thai army had supplied 700 sacks of rice to Myanmar army units on Myanmar’s eastern border, citing an unidentified security official as saying it was on the orders of the Thai government.
“The Thai army is not supplying the Myanmar army and there has been no contact from the Myanmar army requesting help or demanding any assistance from us because they have their own honour,” Major General Amnat Srimak, commander of the Naresuan Force, said in a statement.
“If there is anything, I think there is regular commerce at normal border crossings,” Amnat said. “We are not blocking this if the conduct is not against the law and follows customs procedures.”
A Thai government spokesman did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Myanmar’s army did not answer calls seeking comment.
Thai media said the Myanmar army units being supplied near the border had been cut off by forces of the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic minority insurgent group that agreed to a ceasefire with the Myanmar government in 2012.
A KNU spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The KNU has thrown its support behind Myanmar’s democracy movement and condemned the military’s coup and crackdown.
The Myanmar junta has defended its coup saying a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was fraudulent and its claims were ignored by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election but has not set a date.
Thai media showed pictures of what appeared to be bags of rice being loaded into trucks at the border. Pictures seen by Reuters showed men, some in camouflage uniform, crossing into Thailand and having their temperatures checked.
Border trade between Thailand and Myanmar has been severely restricted since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Residents told a Reuters reporter the crossing shown in the pictures was not a normal trade route.
Meanwhile opponents of Myanmar’s coup protested again today and international pressure grew on the military junta to halt its repression of democracy supporters, with Asian neighbours joining Western countries in condemning lethal force.
A young man was shot and killed in one of the most turbulent neighbourhoods of the main city of Yangon, a resident and media reported, taking the death toll since the Feb. 1 coup to 238, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
The bloodshed has not quelled public anger over the return of military rule, the ouster of the elected government and the detention of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
But some activists say they have had to adapt tactics.
“We protest where there are no police or military, then when we hear they’re coming, we disperse quickly,” campaigner Kyaw Min Htike told Reuters from Dawei in the south before he and others staged a brief rally outside the town centre.
“We’ll protest any way we can until our revolution prevails.”
Some groups gather at night with candles and placards, then melt away after taking photographs. People also stage “unmanned” protests, with rows of placards with messages like “We will never stop until we get democracy” set up on a street.
Today, dozens of demonstrators gathered in the second city of Mandalay. Several were injured when a vehicle drove into them and when police fired rubber bullets, a city news portal reported. It was not clear why the vehicle hit the protesters.
There were small protests in other towns, including Kyaukme and Hsipaw in the northeast, Kawlin in the north, Hpa-an and Myawaddy in the east, Labutta in the Irrawaddy river delta, Myeik in the south and the central town of Yay Oo, according to news portals and social media.
Hundreds marched in the town of Monywa and burned a copy of the 2008 constitution, which was drafted under military supervision and limits the powers of elected civilians, the Irrawaddy news portal reported.
The spokesman for the junta was not available for comment but has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday condemned what he called the military’s continuing brutal violence and urged a unified international response.
Western countries have repeatedly condemned the coup and the violence. Asian neighbours, who have for years avoided criticising each other, have also begun speaking out.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in some of the strongest comments yet by a regional leader, said on Friday the violence should stop immediately and he would ask Brunei, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to call an urgent meeting.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he was appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against unarmed civilians. Singapore has also expressed its disapproval.
But the military has shown no sign of being swayed and has defended its takeover, which derailed a slow transition to democracy in a country that was under strict military rule from a 1962 coup until the generals initiated reforms a decade ago.
Top: Protesters run during a crackdown of an anti-coup protests at Hlaing Township in Yangon, Myanmar March 17, 2021. File photo: Reuters /Stringer and published by US News & World Report
Home Page: Motorbikes seen passing by near burning barricades in Yangon, on Mar 17, 2021. Photo: Naung Kham and published by Channel NewsAsia
(Reporting by Reuters staff, additional reporting by Fanny Potkin, writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jane Wardell, William Mallard, Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry)