YANGON: People barricaded in a Yangon neighborhood overnight said on 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 a.m. 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.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called for restraint, a point reinforced Tuesday by the United States.
“We continue to urge the Burmese military to exercise maximum restraint,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, using Myanmar’s former name, calling on security forces to “respond peacefully with respect for human rights.”
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.
‘Diplomacy is the only response’
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 (AAPP) monitoring group.
On Tuesday a community leader connected to the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government, Zaw Myat Linn, died during an interrogation following his arrest, the AAPP said. He was the second NLD member to have died in custody in recent days.
The news came as Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK was recalled, according to state media, after he urged the junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
“Diplomacy is the only response and answer to the current impasse,” Kyaw Zwar Minn said on Monday in a statement that was tweeted by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The Monday night raids in San Chaung followed the deaths of three protesters who were shot 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.
The office of a second media outlet Mizzima was also targeted Tuesday, the day after it had its publishing license revoked.
“About ten vehicles with soldiers and police came,” a Mizzima journalist told AFP, adding the office had been closed since the coup.
Security forces also raided the office of Myanmar Now in Yangon on Monday and later revoked its publishing license along with DVB, Khit Thit and 7 Day, following an information ministry order, state broadcaster MRTV said.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the ongoing media crackdown and characterized the raids as “a shocking act of intimidation.”
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.
It alleged he was discovered with “secretive state economic data” and tried to “escape” Myanmar.
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.