Myanmar police use helicopter to harass anti-junta student protesters

Kathleen Brooks, CNN • Updated 13th April 2019

( CNN ) — Myanmar security forces have detained an 18-member army medical team for three months for treating anti-junta activists, a rights group said on Saturday.

The report came days after the AP reported the use of a military attack helicopter in a harassment campaign against student protesters in the southwest, a part of the country still controlled by former junta leader Than Shwe’s cronies.

Myanmar state-owned news agency The Global New Light of Myanmar on Saturday published details of an investigation into the police firing of live ammunition at the civilians in Myitkyina, a main city in the insurgency-wracked region.

Three of the people wounded in the incident are children, while others were hit in the legs and back, said the report, which cited reports from the United Nations and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The journalists visited the scene, where they interviewed 15 soldiers, a police officer and three civilians, one of whom was shot and wounded in the leg.

The four men and women arrested by the military on January 3 included doctors, nurses and an administrator.

They were holding pro-democracy banners in front of the regional parliament building in Myitkyina when the security forces fired at them, wounding six people, including one child, according to the investigation.

Several of the protesters say they were members of political parties that were banned during decades of repressive military rule.

They had gathered outside the office of provincial lawmaker Ma Myint Maung demanding amnesty for their colleagues who have been in jail without trial since 2015.

Authorities also threw up a roadblock to prevent health aid and medicines from reaching people in need, the investigation said.

“Those held included a nurse and a doctor who only worked to save the lives of people,” said Burmese rights group Forum for Democracy in Burma.

“Since their arrest, the people have been denied necessary medical treatment and the rights to express their political opinions,” the group said.

Myanmar leaders under pressure

Myanmar’s civilian government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is under pressure from the international community and human rights groups to bring basic freedoms of expression and association to the majority population still denied them since the junta fell.

Nearly 70 percent of the country’s 55 million people live in a 10 percent of the country’s 643 former junta-controlled townships, making the remaining pockets remote and a tinderbox for extremism.

‘Lion slayer helicopter’

Meanwhile, the global Union of Medical Students has called for a suspension of all clinical training in Myanmar, until troops stop the government’s “widespread, systemic and state-sponsored harassment” of medical students and medical workers.

“The fear of reprisals is now so high that medical training in Myanmar has fallen to the top of our list of concerns,” Union President, Burmese born Jong Hkuah said.

The violence targeted students from the Association of Student Revolutionary Candidates and the Democratic Students’ Front (DSF) who have been protesting against the military’s handling of a major communal dispute in the country’s second largest city Rakhine state.

At least five pro-democracy activists were killed in an October 2013 crackdown on a sit-in demanding government action to protect local Muslim Rohingya Muslims under attack by the Buddhist-dominated military.

There are also concerns that Facebook posts aimed at extremists linked to a new nominally civilian government are having a chilling effect on the media.

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