Myanmar death toll tops 120 as Chinese factories are torched

By  staff writers Nikkei Asia, Japan

Martial law expanded to wider region of Yangon

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military has extended martial law to broader sections of Yangon after the deaths of dozens of protesters in the city’s garment production hub, where several Chinese factories have suffered arson attacks.

The military announced Monday that it is expanding martial law to six districts in the country’s most populous city, meaning that the armed forces and not the police will maintain public order in the designated areas. This comes after some of the worst bloodshed since the Feb. 1 coup occurred over the weekend.

Signs point to continued violence ahead, with an opposition group telling citizens they have the right to defend themselves against “unlawful” actions by the armed forces.

At least 38 people were killed Sunday during protests against the military’s power grab, the Myanmar-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reports. This ties the highest single-day death toll since the elected government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted, and brings the total number of deaths to over 120.

Sunday’s declaration of martial law, which the military says was a response to vandals blocking access by fire crews, marks a new phase in the coup. Mobile internet connections also were blocked for the first time during daylight hours on Monday.

The United Nations secretary-general’s special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, condemned the violence, saying “the military defies international calls, including from the Security Council, for restraint, dialogue and full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Japan’s Fast Retailing, the parent of clothing chain Uniqlo, said Monday that some of its supplier plants are experiencing production delays. Fast Retailing has six suppliers in Myanmar, with five of them located in Yangon. Roughly 400 Japanese companies have operations in Myanmar.

Many of the protester deaths occurred in Hlaingthaya Township, a hub of garment production in Yangon’s northwest. According to reports, 22 people were killed there Sunday and over 20 injured. Unconfirmed video posted on social media shows soldiers and police opening fire from a bridge in Hlaingthaya, in scenes that the AAPP described as a virtual war zone.

Smoke believed to be from a factory fire rises in Yangon’s Hlaingthaya Township on March 14.   © Reuters

Fires broke out Sunday at garment factories, some Chinese-owned, in Hlaingthaya and Shwepyitha townships on the outskirts of Yangon, the country’s commercial capital. The damage deals another blow to an important driver of Myanmar’s economy.

Multiple Chinese factories suffered arson attacks and looting, Beijing’s embassy in Myanmar said Sunday. The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said Monday in a Twitter post that 32 Chinese-invested factories were attacked, leaving two people injured. Property losses totaled 240 million yuan ($37 million), according to the tweet, which cites the Chinese Embassy.

The cause of the factory fires was not immediately clear, but the military blamed them on arson attacks by protesters. Speculation that the military enjoys support from China has stoked anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters on Monday that China hopes “the relevant parties in Myanmar will keep calm and exercise restraint, act in the fundamental interests of the people, address their differences through dialogue and consultation within the constitutional and legal framework and continue to advance the democratic transition.”

“China will continue to urge Myanmar to take practical measures to stop all violent behaviors and hold the culprits accountable and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese businesses and personnel in Myanmar,” Zhao said.

The Committee for Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw consisting of parliamentarians from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy on Sunday affirmed citizens’ right to self-defense.

“The people have the full right to defend themselves or others according to the law if [the] unlawful military coup council or their chain of command have issued orders to the armed organizations, which are no longer” civil servants, the committee said in a statement issued on Facebook.

A video hearing had been set for Monday in Suu Kyi’s arrest on a growing list of charges, but her lawyer said it was canceled due to an internet outage.