Activists said on Tuesday that hundreds of young Myanmar demonstrators who had been trapped by security forces in a Yangon district overnight had been able to escape, following demands from western powers and the United Nations for them to be allowed to leave.
Myanmar has been thrown into turmoil following the army’s occupation and arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, security forces have killed over 60 protesters and arrested over 1,800, according to an advocacy organization.
Sanchaung police, armed with guns and stun grenades, declared on Monday that they would search homes for anyone from outside the district, and that anyone found hiding them would be punished.
Shar Ya Mone, a youth activist, said she had been in a building with 15 to 20 others but had now been able to return home.
“There were many free car rides and people welcoming the protesters,” Shar Ya Mone said by telephone, pledging to keep demonstrating “until the dictatorship ends.”
After security forces withdrew, another protester reported on social media that they were able to evacuate the area about 5 a.m.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had previously called for “full restraint” and the peaceful release of all demonstrators without violence or arrests, a call reiterated by the US and UK embassies in Myanmar.
Around 50 people were detained in Sanchaung after police searched homes, according to an advocacy rights organization, while checks were still being conducted.
For more than a month, regular demonstrations have been held to demand Suu Kyi’s release and respect for the election her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won last November.
The army seized power on the basis of election fraud, which the electoral commission refuted. It has promised a new election, but no date has been set.
The military has swept aside criticism of its conduct, as it has in previous times of army rule when protests were violently suppressed.
It is also under pressure this time from a civil disobedience campaign that has paralyzed government operations, as well as protests at banks, factories, and shops that shut down most of Yangon on Monday.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, following its U.N. representative, called for Suu Kyi’s release on Monday, attracting praise from British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab. The junta has been sanctioned by the United Kingdom, the United States, and a few other Western countries. According to diplomats and two internal documents seen by Reuters, the European Union is planning to broaden its sanctions to include army-run companies.