“How can we watch this situation any longer?” said Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, speaking to reporters. She said the military is using 9mm submachine guns and other automatic weapons to shoot down civilians.
Kyal Sin’s death, and that of other young protesters, has emerged as a new flash point for democracy protesters in Myanmar, who are fighting to restore the civilian government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and unseat the military from power. Pictures of the teenager captured moments before her death — clear eye goggles hanging down from her neck, her gaze defiant — have become emblematic of the movement, led by youth facing down armed generals who have brutally crushed uprisings like theirs before. By Thursday, protests were brewing again in major cities such as Yangon, crowds growing larger by the hour.
“This is my first day joining the protest,” said San Yay Aye, an 18-year-old. She dashed out of her house as her mother tried to stop her, arguing that she could no longer stay home while people were dying for Myanmar.
“People who sacrificed their lives for us inspire me and my friends. Ma Kyal Sin was the last push for me to join,” she added, using an honorific for the deceased woman.
Mass protests against the military began soon after generals arrested Suu Kyi, who led the civilian government in the role of state counselor, and President Win Myint and other ministers, seizing power in a coup. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won reelection in a landslide in November, but military leaders alleged fraud and refused to recognize the results.
As the protest movement gains traction, the Myanmar military is responding with brutality, shooting randomly into crowds and gunning down protesters. Shooting to kill — aiming for protesters’ heads or chests — has emerged as a crowd-control tactic, as snipers pick off targets and hope their deaths will send protesters fleeing and disperse the crowd.
The U.N. report and tallies from other rights groups say at least 59 have been killed, which would make this crackdown bloodier than even the monk-led Saffron Revolution against military rule in Myanmar, when 31 are estimated to have died. More than 1,000 people have been detained, ranging from intellectuals to lawyers to civilians dragged from their homes for participating in the anti-military resistance.
Schraner Burgener, the U.N. envoy, urged countries to take “very strong measures” against the military in the hopes that it will reverse course. But, she admitted, the Myanmar military is prepared to again endure harsh economic sanctions and once again be relegated as an international pariah.
The Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, directly ruled the country for a half-century before giving way to a quasi-democratic power-sharing arrangement with the civilian government. That balance broke down as tensions intensified between Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing, the military commander, his ambition and desire for power culminating in the Feb. 1 coup.
Recounting a conversation with Myanmar deputy military chief Soe Win, Schraner Burgener said she had warned him that the military would face penalties and isolation in response to the coup.
“The answer was: ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived,’ ” she said. “When I also warned they will go into isolation, the answer was: ‘We have to learn to walk with only few friends.’ ”
Kyaw Ye Lynn in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this report.