Myanmar’s military junta chief Min Aung Hlaing threw a lavish dinner party Saturday while his troops reportedly shot dead more than 100 people in the streets and forced thousands of people to flee into neighboring Thailand, during a weekend of indiscriminate terror and bloodshed that was widely condemned internationally.
Images posted on social media showed the coup leader dressed in a bow tie and a white, medal-laiden jacket walking a red carpet, greeting attendees and sitting down to a meal to mark Armed Forces Day.
The annual holiday commemorates the beginning of the army’s resistance against Japanese occupation in World War II and the junta staged a show of force with a military parade. Saturday was also the full moon day of Tabaung, the end of Myanmar’s lunar calendar and an important time in Buddhism that should have been celebrated with festivals and visits to pagodas.
Instead, soldiers and police embarked on a rampage, killing at least 114 people — including children — in 44 towns and cities across the country on Saturday, according to a tally by the independent Myanmar Now news outlet. It was the deadliest day since the army seized power in a coup and overthrew the country’s elected government on February 1.
United States President Joe Biden joined a chorus of international condemnation Sunday, saying the situation in Myanmar was “terrible,” and described the actions of the military as “absolutely outrageous.” The US has imposed sanctions on several of the generals, including Min Aung Hlaing, and two military-owned conglomerates. Biden was asked what the US response would be to the weekend’s atrocities and he said, “We’re working on that now.”
On Monday, the UK government urged British nationals in Myanmar to leave the country immediately citing the increase in violence.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayit Chan-o-cha said his government has prepared for a potential influx of refugees from neighboring Myanmar. “We have prepared the areas if the influx happens (so we know) where to keep them,” Prayut said during a press briefing. “We don’t want to have any influx into our area, but we certainly have to take human rights issues into our consideration.”
Thailand has hosted tens of thousands of refugees in nine main camps along its border with Myanmar for three decades, following armed conflicts, human rights abuses and persecution of ethnic minorities by the Myanmar military.
About 3,000 people fled from Myanmar’s southeastern Karen state over the border to Thailand Sunday, after military jets carried out a bombing raid, according to the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), which operates within Karen state and refugee camps in Thailand.
As well as indiscriminate killing of unarmed people, brutal acts were widely reported over the weekend. A 40-year-old Mandalay resident was shot and burned alive by military troops, according to Myanmar Now, which quoted residents and a night guard in the victim’s neighborhood. There were also reports of security forces shooting into residential buildings, nighttime raids and arrests, and looting and destruction of private property.
In a speech during a parade in the capital Naypyidaw Saturday, Min Aung Hlaing said that the military would protect the people and strive for democracy.
As citizens tried to mourn their dead on Sunday, the killings and acts of violence continued, however. Reuters reported that security forces opened fire at the funeral service of 20-year-old student Thae Maung Maung in Bago near the commercial capital Yangon. Mourners were forced to flee, three people in the town told the news agency.
Children were not spared from the carnage. At least six children between the ages of 10 and 16 were among those killed on Saturday, according to news reports and witnesses, Reuters reported. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said 35 children have been killed by junta forces since the coup.
“An 11-year-old boy, an 11-year-old girl, two 13-year-old boys, a 13-year-old girl, three 16-year-old boys and two seventeen-year old boys, all reportedly shot and killed. A one-year-old baby girl gravely injured after being struck in the eye with a rubber bullet. These were the latest child casualties on the bloodiest day in Myanmar since the military takeover,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement.
“Millions of children and young people have been directly or indirectly exposed to traumatizing scenes of violence, threatening their mental health and emotional wellbeing.”
Advocacy group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said 13 people died on Sunday, bringing the total killed since the coup to 459. It reported that junta forces used live ammunition and grenades against civilians and opened fire outside a hospital in the biggest city Yangon, injuring one staff member on Sunday.
“The junta is using grenades, not just live rounds but machine-guns in urban areas, to create a combat zone of peaceful residential homes,” AAPP said.
CNN cannot independently verify the reports.
In the country’s borderlands, three civilians were killed and 10,000 were forced to flee their homes and go into hiding in the jungle, the KWO said in a statement on its official Twitter page.
“Many villagers are now hiding in terror in the jungle and more than 3,000 have crossed into Thailand to take refuge,” the KWO said, adding that it feared more attacks on villages in the state.
The Karen National Union (KNU), the armed ethnic group that controls the southeastern region in Myanmar, told CNN that more airstrikes were conducted by the junta Sunday.
Padoh Saw Taw Nee, a spokesperson for KNU, said the air strikes happened around 4 p.m., local time Sunday near the Thail border.
Armed rebel groups have been fighting the military on and off for the past 70 years in the country’s ethnic states but fighting in some areas has increased since the coup.
Military jets killed at least two members of the KNU militia, said David Eubank, founder of the relief organization Free Burma Rangers, adding that it was the first time in 20 years that airstrikes had been carried out.
The weekend’s bloodshed drew renewed Western condemnation, with countries including the US, Britain and the European Union speaking out. The military’s actions were described as a “massacre,” “mass murder” and “shameful, cowardly, brutal” attacks, by various UN officials.
Alice Wairimu Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Myanmar’s military to “immediately stop killing the very people it has the duty to serve and protect.”
The officials also “strongly condemned the Myanmar military’s widespread, lethal, increasingly systematic attacks against peaceful protesters, as well as other serious violations of human rights since it seized power on 1 February 2021.”
But foreign criticism and the sanctions imposed by some Western nations have failed so far to sway the military leaders, as have almost daily protests around the country since the junta took power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said it was time for the world to take action — if not through the UN Security Council then through an international emergency summit. He said the junta should be cut off from funding, such as oil and gas revenues, and from access to weapons.
“Words of condemnation or concern are frankly ringing hollow to the people of Myanmar while the military junta commits mass murder against them,” he said in a statement.