Myanmar’s security forces have killed more than 40 children since February. Here is the story of one, Aye Myat Thu. She was 10.
In the swelter of the hot season, U Soe Oo cracked open the coconut with practiced blows of his machete. Small hands reached out for the first slice, cool and slippery.
His daughter — 10 years old, with dreams of being a makeup artist or a nurse or maybe even a princess with long golden hair like the one in “Maleficent,” which she had watched a zillion times, no joke — ran down a path with her sweet prize.
Just as she reached the trees that marked the perimeter of their property, the girl seemed to stumble, landing flat on her stomach, her father recalled. The piece of coconut slipped from her grasp, falling onto the reddish earth of Mawlamyine, a port town perched on a slender archipelago in southeastern Myanmar.
Mr. Soe Oo put his machete down and ran to tell her it was OK, that she could have another chunk of coconut. He scooped her up, limp in his arms, but it still didn’t register where all the blood was coming from, why she wasn’t saying anything at all.
The bullet had hit the left temple of his daughter, Aye Myat Thu, at about 5:30 in the soft glow of the afternoon of March 27. By the time darkness fell less than an hour later, she was dead.
Since staging a Feb. 1 coup and jailing the nation’s civilian leaders, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, has murdered, assaulted and arrested with impunity. More than 550 people have been killed on the streets and in their homes by soldiers or police officers, according to a monitoring group.
At least 40 of the dead were children under 18, according to a tally compiled by The New York Times that relies on medical testimony, funeral details and family accounts. A few of the minors were killed for participating in the protests. Many others were bystanders who were seemingly executed, with a single gunshot to the head.
Often the children were killed as they went about their lives, playing or huddling with their families, in cities and towns that have descended into terror. Some had done nothing more threatening in their final moments than seek the comfort of a father’s lap, serve tea, fetch water or run down a lane with a piece of coconut.
“I have no power of revenge against the soldiers who killed my daughter,” said Daw Toe Toe Lwin, Aye Myat Thu’s mother. “All I can do is hope their turn comes soon.”
The slaughter of children has eclipsed the violence of previous military crackdowns, horrifying a nation accustomed to the Tatmadaw’s impulse to use maximum force against peaceful civilians. And it has hardened the resolve of a mass protest and civil disobedience movement that shows little sign of folding in the face of army snipers and grenade launchers.
This past week, a United Nations special envoy for Myanmar warned the Security Council that “a blood bath is imminent” and that “the whole country is on the verge of spiraling into a failed state.”
In Mawlamyine — known for its Buddhist pagodas and fleeting mentions, by its old name of Moulmein, in a Rudyard Kipling poem and a George Orwell essay — the protests began a week after the coup. They have coalesced almost daily since, with protesters occasionally showing up on boats in the harbor or on fleets of motorcycles.
Members of Aye Myat Thu’s family had not been politically active. Four years ago, when others in Mawlamyine protested the naming of a bridge after a general from another state, they kept quiet. A decade before that, when monks led protests against the military junta, they also stayed home. The same was true in 1988, when Myanmar erupted in pro-democracy dissent, only for the military to gun down thousands of people nationwide.