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Myanmar cuts wireless internet service amid coup protests

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Anti-coup demonstrators raise the three finger of resistance and a portrait of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Yangon, Myanmar. April 1, 2021.
Anti-coup demonstrators raise the three finger of resistance and a portrait of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Yangon, Myanmar. April 1, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Myanmar's wireless broadband internet services were shut down on Friday by order of the military, a local provider said, as protesters continued to defy the threat of lethal violence to oppose the junta's takeover.

A directive from the Ministry of Transport and Communications on Thursday instructed that "all wireless broadband data services be temporarily suspended until further notice,” according to a statement posted online by local provider Ooredoo.

Fibre-based landline internet connections were still working, albeit at drastically reduced speeds.

Also on Friday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that Myanmar's military has forcibly disappeared hundreds of people, including politicians, election officials, journalists, activists and protesters and refused to confirm their location or allow access to lawyers or family members in violation of international law.

“The military junta’s widespread use of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances appears designed to strike fear in the hearts of anti-coup protesters,” said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director. 

“Concerned governments should demand the release of everyone disappeared and impose targeted economic sanctions against junta leaders to finally hold this abusive military to account.”

The crisis in the Southeast Asian nation has expanded sharply in the past week, both in the number of protesters killed and with military airstrikes against the guerrilla forces of the Karen ethnic minority in their homeland along the border with Thailand.

In areas controlled by the Karen, more than a dozen civilians have been killed since Saturday and more than 20,000 have been displaced, according to the Free Burma Rangers, a relief agency operating in the area.

About 3,000 Karen fled to Thailand, but many returned under unclear circumstances. Thai authorities said they went back voluntarily, but aid groups say they are not safe and many are hiding in the jungle and in caves on the Myanmar side of the border.

The UN Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia called on countries in the region “to protect all people fleeing violence and persecution in the country” and “ensure that refugees and undocumented migrants are not forcibly returned,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

The UN Security Council late Thursday strongly condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters. 

The press statement was unanimous but weaker than a draft that would have expressed its “readiness to consider further steps,” which could include sanctions. 

China and Russia, both permanent Council members and both arms suppliers to Myanmar’s military have generally opposed sanctions.

The statement came after the UN special envoy for Myanmar warned the country faces the possibility of civil war and urged significant action be taken or risk it spiralling into a failed state.