Getting to the truth about the Panbingyi ramming incident

On Sunday, a flash mob protest in Yangon’s Kyimyindaing Township ended in tragedy after junta forces rammed a vehicle into a crowd that included both protesters and bystanders.

Many of the details of the incident, which was captured on video by residents of Panbingyi Street, where it occurred, are unclear. Initial reports that five people had been killed have not yet been confirmed, and it has also been impossible to determine exactly how many arrests were made in the aftermath of the attack.

According to a statement released by the regime on Tuesday, none of the victims were killed, and only three were injured—two men who were said to be in stable condition and a woman whose condition was described as critical—while eight men and three women were arrested.

The regime’s brief account of what it euphemistically describes as a “crowd dispersal operation” is undoubtedly a whitewash. Such attacks—normally carried out by deranged madmen or hate-filled extremists—usually claim multiple lives.To get a more complete picture of what happened on Sunday, Myanmar Now has examined the video and photographic evidence and spoken to nearly a dozen witnesses, including some who were among its intended targets.

What emerges is still far from clear—nothing short of a full, independent investigation will reveal all the facts—but the sheer criminality of the actions of those who used a vehicle as a weapon against defenceless civilians is not in doubt.

Protesters’ perspective

The protest on Panbingyi Street was one of many that have been held in Yangon and other towns and cities around Myanmar since the military seized power more than 10 months ago. Despite violent crackdowns, groups of youthful activists continue to play cat and mouse with the regime by staging flash mob protests that usually end within minutes—just long enough to remind the junta, and the general public, that the anti-coup movement is alive and well.

Unlike the urban guerrilla groups that have formed in recent months, the organizers of these protests rely on peaceful means to get their message across. At Sunday’s protests, participants were told to avoid even using banners representing organizations or strike committees. The protest was intended to speak only for the vast majority of Myanmar citizens opposed to the military takeover in February.

As is generally the case with this style of protest, the size of the crowd was small. Only around 20 people were directly involved, according to one person who took part. The march began at around 8:45am and remained peaceful even as others began to join in, he said. Within moments, however, the situation quickly descended into panic.

“We had only gone about 20 steps down Panbingyi Street when a black double-cab truck started speeding towards us at 80 or 90mph, ramming into us from behind. Some people were knocked down right away, and none of them got up,” said the protester, who did not want to be named.

“The truck came at us so fast that people were thrown into the air. I was also hit, but I was just knocked to the side. Then a soldier started beating me with the butt of his rifle,” he said.

In the ensuing chaos, however, he managed to fend off his attacker, knocking him down long enough to flee. The last thing he heard, he said, was a gunshot from the soldier’s rifle.

“He fired at me but missed,” the protester told Myanmar Now not long after his dramatic escape.

Although he fled the scene, the protester said he estimated that around 20 people were arrested, including some who were not part of the protest.

Another protester put the size of the crowd at around 40, many of whom were just ordinary citizens who had decided to march along with the protesters.

“The attack happened about two minutes after we started chanting and marching,” said the 26-year-old protester, who also asked to remain anonymous.

At first, he said, nobody could hear the truck coming because everyone was chanting anti-coup slogans. It was only after another driver used his horn to warn the protesters that they began to scatter. 

When he looked back, he saw a number of people lying on the ground. Then there was a gunshot, followed by the even more ominous sound of the truck revving up for a second run at the protesters, he said.

“I could hear the driver pushing down on the accelerator. He was speeding up again as he came into the thick of the crowd. Then I heard a screeching noise, and just as I turned to look again, there was a loud bang as the truck hit several people.”

While some of the pedestrians were thrown into the air, others directly in the truck’s path were run over, the protester told Myanmar Now.  

“The truck just kept going, crushing those who had fallen under it. We could hear them being crushed. And then there was another gunshot,” he said.

Terrified, the protester found a place to hide and stayed there for the next hour. The whole time, he listened as the soldiers beat and shouted curses at those who had been injured, telling them to continue chanting. 

What residents saw (and police reported)

Photographs show at least four people lying motionless on the ground after the attack, including one trapped under the truck that rammed into the protesters. However, a resident of Panbingyi Street told Myanmar Now that he saw at least two other victims who were not visible in the photograph.

“You can’t see them because other cars were in the way,” he said, adding that he also saw a soldier dragging a girl away by her hair, pulling so hard that it tore her scalp.

“It breaks my heart that I couldn’t do anything for them,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the man, there were only four soldiers in the vehicle that carried out the attack, but four more arrived in a police car about 10 minutes later. About an hour after the attack, another police car arrived on the scene, he said. 

“They parked the car in front of the apartment of the woman who filmed the incident. They were looking for more people to arrest, as they didn’t know where the protesters went,” he said.

In the video, residents can be heard yelling at the protesters, telling them to run as the truck zooms towards them. At this point, the protesters and bystanders scatter. Some keep running, while others try to hide behind parked vehicles.  

Witnesses also took photographs of the aftermath of the attack. In some, soldiers can be seen chasing after protesters, while others show bodies lying on the ground. In one, three young people can be seen huddled around one of the injured persons as soldiers and police stand nearby.

Police communications obtained by officers taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement reveal that the perpetrators of the attack were a combined force of soldiers and police led by Major Naing Bo Bo, a temporary commander of Infantry Battalion 82; Maung Maung Mya, a police major and the temporary police chief for Kyimyindaing Township; and Win Zaw Lwin, the second lieutenant of Police Battalion 8.

A total of 28 police and military personnel were involved in the crackdown, according to sources who have seen the official report submitted to the officers’ supervisors. The report claims that the officers were merely attempting to disperse an unlawful protest crowd, but makes no mention of the ramming incident, the sources said.

Targeting witnesses

Ko Chan, another protester who also managed to escape, said he saw at least six people lying on the ground after the attack.

“I think one of them was a reporter. His camera was knocked out of his hands and he was lying face down on the ground. The soldiers grabbed him and threw him into an ambulance,” the 20-year-old said, adding that he also saw three other people being loaded into the ambulance.

According to Ko Chan, the truck that sped into the crowd was moving so fast that one of the soldiers inside dropped his gun when they made impact with the protesters.

“The soldier got out, picked up his gun, and fired it into the air,” he said.

The soldiers fired a few more times after this as they rounded up the protesters, including some who had been injured, and forced them to kneel on the ground.

“They kept yelling at them. ‘Do you still want to chant all this stuff?’ they shouted. ‘Now scream. What are you doing? Scream!’ That’s what they said as they beat them. They also fired off a few shots,” Ko Chan told Myanmar Now.

“The ones who were being beaten couldn’t get up. The others who had been hit by the truck received first aid before they were put into the ambulance. They wouldn’t let anyone else near them, and nobody was allowed to take photos. They also sent people to arrest anyone taking photos from their apartments,” he added.

Once they were firmly in control of the situation, the troops also conducted a thorough search of vehicles parked in the area, making sure that no one was hiding inside or taking photographs. Ko Chan said he only managed to avoid detection by cramming his body into the space under a steering wheel.

Others weren’t so lucky, he said. Some who were caught recording the scene on their phones were promptly arrested, as were local residents who laid flowers on the pavement for those who were presumed dead.

Ko Chan said he didn’t know how many people were killed in the attack, but added that it was clear that some of the injured were unlikely to survive.

“I think they were in very bad shape. I could see blood all over their bodies, even after they were bandaged. Some people tried to get up after they were hit, but couldn’t. One woman wasn’t moving at all,” he said.

Fallen journalist

One of the victims of Sunday’s attack was Mhu Yadanar Khat Moh Moh Tun, a female reporter who sustained serious head injuries. According to her family, she is currently receiving treatment at a military hospital.

“They said her skull was fractured and that her limbs were injured. She is going to need a CT scan today. They said she’s still in critical condition,” said a relative who spoke to Myanmar Now on Monday morning.

She regained consciousness on Tuesday but the family is still denied access to visit her at the hospital.

According to the relative, the 33-year-old reporter’s family tried to contact her as soon as they heard about the crackdown, but couldn’t reach her on her phone because it had been turned off. They then inquired about her at the Kyimyindaing police station and at an interrogation centre in Shwepyithar Township, but this was also unsuccessful. It was not until around 4pm, when they saw a photo of her circulating on social media, that they finally learned what had happened to her.

It would take another four hours to track her down to the military hospital she had been taken to, and even then, they were denied permission to see her.

“We asked them to let us in to see her, but they wouldn’t because it was too late. They said to come back in the morning,” said the relative.

However, when they returned the next morning, they were again told that they couldn’t see the patient. Her doctor confirmed that she was still alive and provided some basic information about her condition, but would not disclose any details about the nature of her injuries. 

According to the relative, who asked not to be identified, Mhu Yadanar’s mother and sister were expected to arrive in Yangon, where the reporter is based, from Pyinmana on Monday.

Following the attack, the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency released a statement confirming that Mhu Yadanar, who works for the company, was among those injured in the attack.

Detained siblings

Few details about those who were arrested on Sunday were available, but Myanmar Now was able to confirm that they included a 15-year-old girl, her 20-year-old brother, and the brother’s 19-year-old girlfriend.  

Yin May Aung, the youngest member of the group, is the sister of Arkar Kyaw, a food courier from Hlaing Township. Arkar Kyaw’s girlfriend, Mya Kyu Kyu Thin, is a second-year engineering student and a volunteer with the Red Cross in Insein Township, where she lives.

According to the siblings’ mother, Arakar Kyaw had gone to Kyimyindaing with his sister and girlfriend to help Yin Myay Aung, who had just received her first salary as an employee of a medical supplies company, buy a second-hand phone.

“I just want them to come home unharmed. I still haven’t heard anything about them. My daughter is just a child. I’m very worried,” she said. 

An uncle of the pair said that he was surprised to hear that they had been caught up in the incident.

“I heard about what happened, but I never imagined that my nephew and niece would be involved. I only learned that they were there when I saw their photos on social media,” he said.

He said he went to the Kyimyindaing police station twice after learning that they had been arrested, but was merely told that they weren’t being held there.

“Arkar Kyaw was injured by a car, but I don’t think the girls were. In one photo, we can see Mya Kyu Kyu Thin wiping the blood off of Arkar Kyaw’s wound with her white polo shirt,” said the uncle.

Another 20-year-old youth who was among those arrested was initially held at the Kyimyindaing police station but later transferred to another location, according to his sister.

“The whole family has been trying to get more information, but all we’ve heard so far is that he was moved from the Kyimyindaing police station. We’re still trying to find out where he is now,” said the sister, who asked that neither she nor her brother be identified by name.

Another identified victim is Kaung Set Linn, who like Mhu Yadanar Khat Moh Moh Tun is a journalist with the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency.

His father said that all he has been able to find out so far is that his son suffered a back injury and has been hospitalized.

“I honestly don’t know what to do now. I went to the police station but they said he was at the hospital,” said the father.

The reaction

Even after more than 10 months of almost daily assaults on the public by regime forces seeking to solidify the military’s hold on power, the attack on Sunday managed to provoke fresh outrage at the junta’s actions.

Images of the attack have circulated widely on social media, prompting many in Yangon to bang pots and pans in protest, in an echo of the early days of the anti-coup movement.

Foreign embassies and international organizations also condemned the incident. 

“We are horrified by reports that security forces opened fire against, ran over, and killed several peaceful protesters this morning in Yangon,” read a statement released by the US Embassy in Yangon on Sunday.

“We support the right of the people of Burma [Myanmar] to protest peacefully. The military’s widespread use of brutal violence underscores the urgency of restoring Burma’s path to inclusive democracy,” it continued.

“I am deeply concerned by this morning’s reported attack on a number of unarmed civilians in Kyimyindaing Township, Yangon, when a vehicle belonging to the security forces rammed into protestors who were then fired upon with live ammunition,” Ramanathan Balakrishnan, the UN resident coordinator in Myanmar, said in statement.

“Those responsible for excessive and disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians must be held to account,” he added.

Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) also voiced its disgust over the incident, calling it an example of “how the fascist army that enjoys impunity after killing innocent civilians lacks human morals.”

“This is not the first time that the terrorist junta has committed such a crime,” the NUG said in a statement released shortly after the attack.

The NUG also called on the international community to work with it as it seeks to hold the junta accountable for its crimes.

Related Articles

Back to top button