Myanmar’s most powerful Buddhist monks’ association called on the junta to end violence against protesters and accused an “armed minority” of torture and killing innocent civilians since last month’s coup, media said on Wednesday.
In its most forthright condemnation of the military’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, the government-appointed organization also said in a draft statement its members intended to halt activities, in an apparent protest.
The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee planned to release a final statement after consulting the religious affairs minister on Thursday, the Myanmar Now news portal said, citing a monk who attended a meeting of the committee.
Monks have a long history of activism in Myanmar and were at the forefront of a 2007 “Saffron Revolution” against military rule, an uprising that, although suppressed, helped usher in democratic reforms.
Committee members could not immediately be reached for comment, but their reported stance would signal a significant rift between authorities and a group that usually works closely with the government.
Pope Francis also appealed for an end to the bloodshed, saying: “Even I kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say ‘stop the violence’.”
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1, detaining her and members of her party, drawing international condemnation.
Ousted members of parliament, most from Suu Kyi’s party, pushed for a united stand against the coup in the ethnically diverse country, saying the designation of terrorist would be lifted from all autonomy-seeking insurgents fighting for democracy.
More than 180 protesters have been killed as security forces try to crush a wave of demonstrations, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says.
Protesters confronted security forces over a sand-bag barricade on one street in the city of Yangon. Police opened intermittent fire and one man appeared to get shot in the head, according to footage on social media.
Reuters could not verify the video. Media reported that authorities forced some Yangon residents to dismantle barricades and threatened to open fire in neighborhoods that didn’t take them down.
Two protesters were killed in the central town of Kale, the BBC reported, while several hundred people gathered in Demoso town in the east, Pathein in the Irrawaddy river delta and Dawei in the south, pictures on social media showed.
Residents of the second city of Mandalay and the central town of Monywa also reported protests.
A total mobile internet shutdown made it difficult for protesters to communicate and to verify information. Very few people in Myanmar have access to Wi-Fi.
“We use a guerrilla protest system. We tell people to disperse if security forces come,” Chit Chit Win, a member of a women’s protest group, told Reuters from Dawei.
“We’re avoiding confrontation but doing what we can.”
A team of U.N. investigators appealed for people to collect documentary evidence of crimes ordered by the military in order to build cases against its leaders.
A junta spokesman did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
DEADLY PAY DISPUTE
Parts of Yangon are under martial law and thousands of residents have fled the industrial suburb of Hlaingthaya where security forces killed 40 people on Sunday and Chinese-financed factories were set ablaze.
Workers said a dispute over pay at a Chinese-owned factory in the industrial zone turned violent on Tuesday after the owner called the security forces who shot dead a woman labor leader and then at least four more people. Myanmar Now said six people were killed.
China’s state media have warned of unspecified action if there are further attacks on Chinese-owned businesses.
Many people in Myanmar believe Beijing is backing the military. Unlike Western powers, China has not condemned the coup and, along with Russia, has prevented the UN Security Council from denouncing the military’s actions.
The junta has charged the acting leader of a parallel civilian government, Mahn Win Khaing Than, with treason, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported.
Mahn Win Khaing Than, who is on the run, is a senior member of Suu Kyi’s party. He was appointed this month by a panel of ousted lawmakers pushing for recognition as the rightful government.
The ousted parliamentarians also said they recognized all insurgent groups committed to a “federal democratic union” and thanked them for helping coup opponents who had fled to their zones.
“Evil must be repelled by our united hands,” the politicians said on Twitter.
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 a new election but not set a date.
Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained since the coup and faces various charges including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.