'Excessive force' used against Karenni youth must be investigated

Rubber bullets and water cannon used against those protesting installation of a statue of General Aung San
'Excessive force' used against Karenni youth must be investigated

Protesters gather near a statue of General Aung San during a demonstration in Loikaw on Feb.12. Police fired rubber bullets and water canon into a crowd of several thousand demonstrators in eastern Myanmar on that day, activists said. (Photo by AFP)

A leading rights group has called on Myanmar’s authorities to investigate allegations that police used excessive use force against protesters in Loikaw, the capital city of Kayah State.

Police fired rubber bullets and water cannon at ethnic Karenni youth who attempted to move beyond police barricades, injuring more than 20 protesters on Feb. 12, Myanmar’s Union Day commemorating a 1947 pact promising autonomy for ethnic minorities.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the youth activists were exercising their rights to peaceful protest and free expression.

HRW said in a statement that since Feb. 1, police have arrested 55 people in Loikaw.

The youth were protesting against the installation of a statue of Gen. Aung San, the father of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. General Aung San is considered the founder of modern-day Myanmar and of the Myanmar army, the Tatmadaw.

On Feb. 12, an agreement was reached between protest leaders and the Kayah State government to drop all charges in exchange for promises to suspend further protests for one month while the opposing sides discuss the fate of the statue.

“Dropping the criminal charges against the protesters doesn’t negate the need for a prompt investigation of the excessive use of force by the police and appropriate action against anyone who acted unlawfully,” Robertson said.

The statue has been a source of controversy since it was announced in February 2018. Ethnic Karenni youth have staged repeated protests calling for a halt to the installation of the statue until the rights of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities are better protected and the promises of the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which promised autonomy for the country’s ethnic regions, are fulfilled.

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