Attacks on Chinese-run Factories in Myanmar, At least 39 reported killed

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News Desk 

Myanmar Security forces killed at least 22 anti-coup protesters in the poor, industrial Hlaingthaya suburb of Myanmar’s main city on 14 March after Chinese-financed factories were set ablaze there, an advocacy group said. A further 16 protesters were killed in other places, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said, as well as one policeman, making it the bloodiest day since the 1st Feb coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar state media have reported that martial law was declared in six districts in Yangon, including the major industrial zones of Hlaing Thar Yar and Shwepyitha. The state-run Myanmar News Agency, which like most other media in the country is not controlled by the military, reported that five factories were set afire in Hlaing Thayar, a factory area to the west of Yangon.

Attacks on Chinese-run factories in Myanmar’s biggest city drew demands from Beijing for protection for their property and employees, while many in Myanmar expressed outrage over China’s apparent lack of concern for those killed in protests against last month’s military coup.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the Chinese Embassy had contacted authorities in Myanmar and urged that police be deployed to protect the Chinese companies and personnel. Police and firefighters were sent to protect the factories, which are scattered across several industrial zones in Yangon. A statement posted by the Chinese Embassy to Myanmar on Facebook about the efforts to protect Chinese businesses triggered an outpouring of fury in more than 52,000 comments.

The Chinese embassy said many Chinese staff were injured and trapped in arson attacks by unidentified assailants on garment factories in Hlaingthaya and that it had called on Myanmar to protect Chinese property and citizens. China is viewed as being supportive of the military junta that has taken power.

As plumes of smoke rose from the industrial area, security forces opened fire on protesters in the suburb that is home to migrants from across the country, local media said. “It was horrible. People were shot before my eyes. It will never leave my memory,” said one photo journalists on the scene who did not want to be named.

Martial law was imposed in Hlaingthaya and another district of Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub and former capital, state media announced. Security forces acted after four garment factories and a fertilizer plant were set ablaze and about 2,000 people had stopped fire engines from reaching them. The latest deaths would bring the toll from the protests to 126, the AAPP said. It said more than 2,150 people had been detained; more than 300 have been released.

China’s embassy described the situation as “very severe” after the attacks on the Chinese-financed factories. It did not make a statement about the killings.

“China urges Myanmar to take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar,” its statement said. However, no group claimed responsibility for burning the factories.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has risen since the coup that plunged Myanmar into turmoil, with opponents of the army takeover noting Beijing’s muted criticism compared to Western condemnation.

Only two factories had been burnt for now, protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on Facebook.

“If you want to do business in Myanmar stably, then respect Myanmar people,” she said. “Fighting Hlaingthaya, we are proud of you!!” Aye Myat Kyaw said, “Stop supporting terrorist army and join Myanmar people.”

The United Nations Special Envoy for Myanmar condemned what she termed the “ongoing brutality”. Many accused Myanmar police or other agitators of causing the destruction to try to incite more trouble.

Christine Schraner Burgener said she had “personally heard from contacts in Myanmar heartbreaking accounts of killings, mistreatment of demonstrators and torture of prisoners over the weekend”. The repression undermined the prospects for peace and stability, she said, appealing to the international community support the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations.

Britain, Myanmar’s former colonial ruler, said it was appalled by the security forces’ use of deadly force against innocent people in Hlaingthaya and elsewhere.

“We call for an immediate cessation of this violence and for the military regime to hand back power to those democratically elected by the people of Myanmar,” British Ambassador Dan Chugg said. The army said it took power after its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s party were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election, but has not set a date. Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup. She faces at least four charges, including the illegal use of walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.

The attacks on Myanmar’s garment factories have injected an extra complication into an already very complex situation. A fair share of the hundreds of garment factories in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, and other major cities are run by Chinese manufacturers. Most are private companies and many are suppliers to big-name fashion, sports and household goods retailers.

Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand also have a large number of manufacturers running factories in Myanmar that play a crucial role in providing jobs and exports that help keep the economy afloat.

Taiwan’s representative office in Yangon recommended that Taiwan-owned companies use Burmese language signs to identify their factories as a “Taiwan Enterprise.” It also advised them to hang Taiwan’s national flag outside and explain to local employees and people living nearby that their factories are Taiwan-run, not from mainland China, to help minimize risks.

Myanmar’s military leaders have often chafed at China’s outsized influence over their economy. But Beijing’s adherence to a policy of non-interference in other countries’ politics has already angered many who are protesting the coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, with some calling for boycotts of Chinese products.

The protesters have been appealing for support from other countries and the United Nations to restore civilian rule, staging protests and strikes in a massive show of civil disobedience that has nearly paralyzed the economy.

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