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June 15 2021
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Previous story AP Investigation: Myanmar's junta using bodies to terrorize Next story
Published on May 26, 2021 10:53 AM

by Associated Press

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Of 130 instances where Myanmar's security forces appeared to be using corpses to intimidate, deceive and exhaust the nation's people, over two-thirds were either confirmed or categorized as having moderate to high credibility. Motorbike rider Kyaw Min Latt was shot, though his family told AP the young carpenter had not been to a demonstration but was instead heading home from the job site to grab an early lunch with two friends.
 
Two black pickups speed down an empty city street in Myanmar before coming to a sudden stop. Security forces standing in the back of the trucks begin firing at an oncoming motorbike carrying three young men.

The bike swerves, crashing into a gate. More shots are fired as two of the passengers run away, while the third, Kyaw Min Latt, remains on the ground. Moans are heard as officers grab the wounded 17-year-old from the pavement, throwing his limp body into a truck bed before driving off.

The incident lasted just over a minute and was captured on a CCTV camera. It is part of a growing trove of photos and videos shared on social media that's helping expose a brutal crackdown carried out by the junta since the military's Feb. 1 takeover of the Southeast Asian nation.

An analysis by The Associated Press and the Human Rights Center Investigations Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at cases where bodies of those targeted indiscriminately by police and the military are being used as tools of terror. The findings are based on more than 2,000 tweets and online images, in addition to interviews with family members, witness accounts, and local media reports.

The AP and HRC Lab identified more than 130 instances where security forces appeared to be using corpses and the bodies of the wounded to create anxiety, uncertainty, and strike fear in the civilian population. Over two-thirds of those cases analyzed were confirmed or categorized as having moderate or high credibility, and often involved tracking down the original source of the content or interviewing observers.

Since the military takeover, more than 825 people have been killed — well over two times the government tally — according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog organization that monitors arrests and deaths. The junta did not respond to written questions submitted by AP.

The HRC Lab examined hours of footage posted online over a two-month period showing dead bodies being snatched off the streets and dragged like sacks of rice before being thrown into vehicles and driven to unknown destinations. Some people have been disappeared or arrested one day and returned dead the next, their corpses mutilated with signs of torture, witnesses confirmed to AP.

Autopsies have been carried out without the permission of families. And some death certificates blame heart attacks or falls after violent attacks, contradicting witness accounts and images captured by protesters, journalists, or residents, including some who have been stealthily recording incidents with mobile phones through windows or from rooftops. In this April 1, 2021 photo provided by Dawei Watch news outlet, smoke rises from the chimney of a crematorium where 17-year old Kyaw Min Latt's body was incinerated in Dawei, Myanmar. His March 27, 2021 shooting by a soldier was captured on CCTV cameras and shared through social media. In this April 1, 2021 photo provided by Dawei Watch news outlet, smoke rises from the chimney of a crematorium where 17-year old Kyaw Min Latt's body was cremated in Dawei, Myanmar.

Cremations and exhumations of the deceased have been secretly conducted in the middle of the night by authorities. Other times, grieving families have been forced to pay military hospitals to release their loved ones' remains, relatives and eyewitnesses told the AP.

Though the incidents may seem random and unprovoked — including kids being shot while playing outside their homes — they are actually deliberate and systematic with the goal of demobilizing people and wearing them down, said Nick Cheesman, a researcher at Australian National University, who specializes in the politics of law and policing in Myanmar...