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Myanmar forces accused of violently occupying schools in "escalation" of post-coup crisis

Dozens killed in anti-coup protests in Myanmar
Dozens killed in deadliest day of anti-coup protests in Myanmar 02:17

The United Nations on Friday accused Myanmar's military rulers of occupying dozens of schools by force — in one case even assaulting teachers in the process — as they seek to quash a popular uprising against the February 1 coup in which they seized complete power of the country. A statement issued by UNICEF, the U.N. children's protection agency, in conjunction with the Save the Children charity, called on the junta to "vacate occupied premises immediately and ensure that schools and educational facilities are not used by military or security personnel."

Myanmar's security forces have killed dozens of protesters amid huge demonstrations that erupted immediately after the coup. Young people, including students, educators and health care workers have played a lead role in the anti-coup uprising.

"Security forces have reportedly occupied more than 60 schools and university campuses in 13 states and regions," UNICEF said in its statement on Friday. "In at least one incident, security forces reportedly beat two teachers while entering premises, and left several others injured."

Police officer carrying a rifle forces a man to crawl on all fours in Yangon
A police officer carrying a rifle forces a man to crawl on all fours in Yangon, Myanmar, March 19, 2021 in a still image from video obtained by Reuters. OBTAINED BY REUTERS

The occupation of schools by the security forces "mark a further escalation of the current crisis and represent a serious violation of the rights of children. Schools must be not used by security forces under any circumstances," the agency said, warning that it would "exacerbate the learning crisis for almost 12 million children and youth in Myanmar."

Police "told to shoot our own family"

A group of Myanmar police officers recounted their escape to India after defying the Myanmar army's orders to shoot people protesting against the February 1 coup in the southeast Asian country. While speaking to an Associated Press photojournalist, they raised a three-finger salute — a symbol of resistance to Myanmar's military rulers.
"We cannot hurt our people, that's why we came to Mizoram," said one of the policemen, who hails from the northwestern town of Tedim. Mizoram is a state in India's northeast that shares a border with Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Crackdown escalates one month after military coup in Myanmar 06:19

After the military coup, one police officer said they were ordered to "shoot people and not just the people, we were told to shoot our own family if they are not on the side of the army," he said. The officers, both men and women among them, previously gave BBC News a similar account of their orders.
Indian villagers in Mizoram have sheltered at least 34 police personnel and one firefighter who've crossed into India over the last two weeks. Indian state and federal government officials haven't given an exact number of people from Myanmar who have crossed into India since the coup, but one regional organization put the number close to 120.

Those in Mizoram spoke to an AP photojournalist on condition of anonymity because of fears of retribution against family members still in Myanmar.

A man who was shot during the security force crackdown on anti-coup protesters shows a three-finger salute as he is helped in Thingangyun, Yangon
A man who was shot during the security force crackdown on anti-coup protesters shows a three-finger salute as he is helped in Thingangyun, Yangon, Myanmar on March 14, 2021.  STRINGER / REUTERS

On the streets of Myanmar's cities, the three-finger salute, which traces its origins to the Hunger Games books and movies by Suzanne Collins, is being used by protesters at massive anti-army demonstrations that have continued despite a violent crackdown by the junta's security forces. Rights groups say more than 100 people have been killed by the police and army.

"We are all policemen working under the Myanmar government. We left our family in Myanmar. We do not know what is happening to our family, but they will face a lot of problems from the army. We came to Mizoram for shelter, we will die if we go back there," he said. "We cannot reach our parents due to telecommunication problems, but what we heard is they are very scared to go out of their homes ... I'm hoping that one day we will meet again."   

"Unidentified men" take BBC reporter

The BBC said on Friday that one of the British news outlet's Myanmar language service reporters was "missing" after being spirited away by unidentified men. 

"We are extremely concerned about our BBC News Burmese Reporter, Aung Thura, who was taken away by unidentified men," BBC News' Press Team said in a Twitter post. "We call on the authorities to help locate him and confirm that he is safe."

More than 30 journalists have been arrested since the coup, most of them while covering the protests. At least 18 remain in detention, according to the Thailand-based monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Among those still being held is AP photojournalist Thein Zaw, who was arrested while covering a protest in Myanmar's most populous city, Yangon. He's been charged with "causing fear, spreading false news or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee."

The junta has changed the laws pertaining to those crimes since the coup, increasing the maximum sentence from two years in jail to three.

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