Most protesters manage to escape Sanchaung under siege

A tense night ended early Tuesday after hundreds of protesters trapped in a residential neighbourhood in Yangon’s Sanchaung township managed to flee following a sweep by security forces that lasted well into the early morning hours.

At least 20 people were arrested overnight, but most escaped thanks to local residents who hid them from police and soldiers as they forced their way into homes in search of the demonstrators.

The siege of the neighbourhood came after a day of cat-and-mouse protests that began at around 8:00 a.m. on Monday near the intersection of Kyuntaw and Bargaryar streets in Sanchaung.

Armed only with helmets and makeshift shields, the protesters came under fire almost immediately as they gathered in small groups in defiance of major crackdowns over the weekend.

Attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets, they scattered as security forces pursued them into side streets and buildings where residents left their doors open to help them evade arrest.

They then returned to the streets to resume their protests, only to be chased back into hiding several more times.

By the late afternoon, a decision was made to seal off the area between Kyuntaw Street and Baho Road in a bid to capture the hundreds hiding inside. 

Using loudspeakers, the security officials warned residents that they would face punishment if they didn’t hand over any individuals who not on their household registration list.

As the siege continued late into the night, residents of surrounding areas defied the night-time curfew in an effort to distract the security forces. Late-night protests also broke out in other parts of Yangon in a show of support.

Earlier in the day, United Nations officials and the US and other Western embassies issued statements calling on the authorities to reopen the closed-off neighbourhood.   

Ignoring these calls, the security forces scoured the area as they continued to demand that residents surrender the fugitives.  

In some cases, as many as 50 people were taking refuge in a single apartment, raising fears that their hosts could face severe punishment if caught.

According to two Myanmar Now reporters who were among those forced into hiding, most of the houses targeted for inspection were on Kyuntaw Street, near the protest site, while in other areas, few homes were searched.

In videos shared on social media, security forces were heard shouting abuse and daring protesters to show themselves.

The sweep ended at around 3:00 a.m. Tuesday, at which point residents of other areas of the city arrived to offer free rides to those who had been trapped overnight. 

Before leaving, the two Myanmar Now reporters were offered a meal by their host, who said that he was prepared to face any consequence for helping the pair.

Other protesters reported similar treatment in posts on social media.

The siege was the latest effort by Myanmar’s ruling military council to contain opposition to its February 1 overthrow of the country’s elected civilian government.

Since the takeover, the regime has killed at least 50 protesters and arrested nearly 2,000, as hundreds of thousands have joined a nationwide uprising against a return to military rule.

On Monday, at least three people were shot dead by security forces as protests continued around the country.


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