China 'very concerned' for safety of its citizens in Myanmar

Beijing

BEIJING said it was "very concerned" for the safety of its citizens in Myanmar on Monday, after Chinese factories were attacked amid a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Yangon.

Chinese state media said 32 factories in Myanmar's commercial heart of Yangon were attacked on Sunday, causing US$37 million in damage and leaving two employees injured as security forces launched a bloody crackdown on protesters which left dozens dead.

Martial law has been declared in the townships where the factories were located. The Chinese Embassy in Yangon has accused protesters of attacking the factories.

Many in Myanmar's pro-democracy movement believe China has sided with the army since a Feb 1 coup took out the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

China is a key investor in Myanmar and has bet big on its strategic importance to its Belt and Road Initiative, a sweeping infrastructure project.

Describing the incident as "nasty", foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged Myanmar to take actions to "resolutely avoid a recurrence of such incidents".

China "is very concerned about the impact on the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel ... the actions of these outlaws are not in the interests of Myanmar and its people", he said.

Mr Zhao said Myanmar security forces had reinforced the area around the factories.

"China will continue to urge Myanmar to take concrete steps to stop all acts of violence and bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure the safety of Chinese people's life and property," he told reporters in Beijing.

After years of testy relations between a wary Myanmar public and Chinese investors, Beijing was confident it had secured the South-east Asian nation as a partner in its strategic ambitions for Asia.

A natural gas pipeline to a mega-port off Rakhine state is set to give China access to the Indian Ocean.

But a social media campaign by Myanmar's protest movement has urged citizens to rally against the Chinese pipeline, which crosses the country.

A widespread popular campaign against Chinese interests in the country is likely to rattle Beijing. The Myanmar public has pushed back at Chinese investments before, with lingering suspicions over its aims and the conditions under which it employs local workers in Chinese factories.

In the latest round of violence on Monday, Myanmar security forces fired on pro-democracy demonstrators killing six people, media and witnesses said, a day after dozens of protesters were shot dead.

Supporters of Ms Suu Kyi marched again, including in the second city of Mandalay and in the central towns of Myingyan and Aunglan, where police opened fire, witnesses and media reported.

"One girl got shot in the head and a boy got shot in the face," an 18-year-old protester in Myingyan told Reuters by telephone. "I'm now hiding."

The Myanmar Now media outlet reported three people were killed in Myingyan and two in Aunglan, while a journalist in Mandalay said one person was shot dead there after a big protest had passed off peacefully.

The worst of Sunday's bloodshed came in the Yangon suburb of Hlaingthaya where security forces killed at least 37 protesters after arson attacks on Chinese-owned factories, said a doctor in the area who declined to be identified.

Sixteen people were killed in other places, rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said, as well as one policeman.

Media said martial law had been imposed in Hlaingthaya and several other districts of Yangon, and in parts of Mandalay.

The latest deaths bring the toll from the protests to about 140, based on a tally by the AAPP and the latest reports.

In an apparent bid to suppress news of the turmoil, telecoms service providers were ordered to block all mobile data nationwide, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Telecom Telenor said in a statement "mobile Internet was unavailable".

Ms Suu Kyi was due to face another virtual court hearing on Monday but her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said the session could not go ahead because the Internet was down which meant no video conferencing. The next hearing will be on March 24, he said.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations human rights investigator on Myanmar, appealed for UN member states to cut the supply of cash and weapons to the military.

"Junta leaders don't belong in power, they belong behind bars," he said on Twitter. AFP, REUTERS

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