Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with demonstrators refusing to surrender to the junta and calling for a return to democracy.
After more than two months of military rule, attempts to verify deaths and confirm reports of crackdowns have been hampered by the junta’s throttling of cell data within the region, effectively putting the majority of the population in the dark.
It took a full day for details of a violent crackdown in Bago, 65 kilometres (40 miles) north-east of Yangon, to surface, as residents told AFP of continued army brutality that forced them to flee to nearby villages.
The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a local monitoring organisation that tracks deaths, announced “over 80 anti-coup protesters were killed by security forces in Bago on Friday” by Saturday evening.
Protesters hiding behind sandbag barricades wielding homemade rifles, according to AFP-verified video taken early Friday, as explosions could be heard in the distance.
Authorities had declined to let rescue workers close the remains, according to a local.
“They piled up all the dead bodies, loaded them into their army truck and drove it away,” he told AFP.
State-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Saturday blamed the crackdown on “rioters”, and reported only one dead.
The United Nations office in Myanmar tweeted late Saturday night that it was following the bloodshed in Bago, where medical treatment had been “denied’ to the injured.
“We call on the security forces to allow medical teams to treat the wounded,” it said.
Bago’s violence will add to AAPP’s current death toll of 618 civilians killed since the coup.
The junta has a far lower number: 248, according to a spokesman Friday.
– ‘They will not rule us’ –
Unrest also erupted Saturday in the northwestern town of Tamu, near the Myanmar-India border, where protesters fought back when soldiers tried to tear down barricades erected to protect their community.
Two civilians were killed when soldiers started randomly shooting, said a local, with protesters retaliating by throwing a bomb that exploded and overturned a military truck, killing over a dozen soldiers.
“Some are in hiding — we are worried that our people will be hurt as a reprisal” she told AFP, adding that all Tamu’s residents are calling for is “down with the dictatorship”.
Despite the constant bloodshed, crowds have managed to take to the streets, with demonstrators expressing their dissatisfaction in unusual ways.
In Yangon, crimson paint was splattered over the streets in front of the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda, reflecting the blood that had already been spilt.
Flyers with the words “They will not rule us” were strewn around Yangon’s neighbourhoods.
State-run media reported Friday night that 19 suspects have been sentenced to death by a military tribunal for theft and murder, with 17 of them being tried in absentia.
Human Rights Watch condemned the sentences Saturday as a way to sow fear in the anti-coup movement, as Norway’s foreign minister called the use of capital punishment “unacceptable”.
– ‘Fight the common enemy’ –
The rising bloodshed has also enraged some of Myanmar’s 20 or so armed ethnic groups, which occupy large swaths of territories mainly in frontier areas.
Unrest erupted Saturday in northern Shan State as the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic rebel group, launched a pre-dawn assault on a police station, according to Brigadier General Tar Bhone Kyaw of the TNLA, who refused to comment further.
More than a dozen police officers were killed, according to local reports, while the TNLA said the military retaliated with air strikes on their forces, killing at least one rebel soldier.
In the evening, state-run media announced that “terrorist armed groups” struck and set fire to the police station.
The attack comes on the same day that the Arakan Army (AA), another powerful rebel faction based in western Rakhine province, released a statement reiterating its support for the anti-coup campaign.
In recent weeks, the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have increased their attacks on military and police.
The military has retaliated with air strikes on KNU territories, displacing more than 24,000 people in Karen state by Saturday, according to the rebel party.
– ‘At the brink of state failure’ –
“Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” Myanmar’s Ambassador to the UN Kyaw Moe Tun told a Security Council meeting on Friday, proposing a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions against members of the military.
An independent analyst with the International Crisis Group, also warned the council that Myanmar was “at the brink of state failure”.
“(The junta’s) actions may be creating a situation where the country becomes ungovernable,” said Richard Horsey.
China and Russia wield veto power at the Security Council and generally oppose sanctions.
But Beijing — the top ally of Myanmar’s military — has voiced growing concern about instability, and has said it is speaking to “all parties”.