Yangon, Burma – Makeshift barricades made of burning bamboo, bricks and rubber tires have given the streets of Myanmar’s largest city the appearance of an urban war zone, and now the military is forcing civilians to dismantle them, piece by piece – at gunpoint.
Constructed from any material at hand, the barriers that have sprung up across Yangon offer limited protection from the live ammunition that security forces have resorted to with increasing frequency and lethal effect to crush. mass opposition to the February 1 coup that toppled elected civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Protesters have numbers, but no real way to deal with tear gas, rubber bullets, and gunfire from the military and police.
The Political Prisoner Assistance Association’s watch group suggests more than 230 people have been killed in the unrest, and the actual toll across the country is believed to be much higher.
The barricades have become something of a hallmark of protesters, blocking main roads and using everything from bags of cement filled with sand and bamboo screens to large wheeled bins and housing bricks.
They have partially succeeded in slowing the movement of the security forces, who now intend to force local residents – including those not involved in the protests – to dismantle and evict them.
Tun Hla, 60, was at home when gunmen knocked on his door and asked him to work to clear a barrier erected in his neighborhood.
“I’ve been through this kind of thing before and it shouldn’t happen again,” said Tun Hla, her real name.
The February coup brutally ended a 10-year experiment in democracy in Myanmar, which had previously been under strict military rule for five decades. During this period under the junta, it was common for military personnel across the country to order families to provide an able-bodied person to do back-breaking work.
“This use of forced labor is not new in Myanmar,” said John Quinley of Fortify Rights, adding that it was “a brutal tactic used to create an environment of fear and intimidation”.
Despite chronic back pain, Tun Hla had no choice but to follow the orders of the armed guards and – hiding her children at home – joined her neighbors to remove the sandbags and piled up bamboo stalks. in the street.
âI was worried about my children becauseâ¦ there are young people dying,â he said.
Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital and trade hub, has been a hotbed of resistance to the coup, and the city has witnessed some of the most violent scenes, with security forces indiscriminately patrolling and firing in residential areas.
Martial law has been imposed in six districts of Yangon, placing nearly 2 million people under the direct control of military commanders.
Sabel, 20, said she and her widowed mother were forced, at gunpoint, to dismantle a street barricade in their neighborhood.
“I’ve never done this in my life,” she said, refusing – like Tun Hla – to give her real name for fear of repercussions.
Sabel and her mother were forced to remove five rows of heavy bags filled with marble sand.
“I got bruises on my hands, it really hurt me,” she said, adding how she saw security personnel pointing guns at two young boys as they struggled to lift sandbags and tear off bamboo fences.
A Yangon resident who grew up in northern Chin State – an area of ââlong-standing conflict between the military and armed ethnic groups – recalled how, just 10 years under the previous military rule, he had was forced to dig trenches and fell trees around His hometown.
âI don’t want my sons to go through these nightmares like me,â he said.
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