Myanmar’s generals have hired a Canadian lobbying firm to help “explain the real situation” in the country, as security forces on Wednesday were engaged in a standoff at the staff compound of railway workers opposed to the February 1 coup and the United States said it was “repulsed” by the use of lethal force against protesters.
Footage posted on social media showed security forces gathered on the street near the railway staff compound, in an echo of the military’s efforts on Monday night to barricade protesters into Sanchaung, also in Yangon.
One person involved in the strike told the Reuters news agency by telephone they feared an imminent crackdown.
“I think they are going to arrest us. Please help us,” said the person, who asked to be identified only as Ma Su rather than their full name.
In a Facebook live broadcast from the area people chanted: “Are we staff united? Yes, we are united” and a commentator claimed police were trying to remove barricades and threatening to shoot.
Details could not be independently verified. Police and army officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The railway workers are part of a mass civil disobedience movement that is intended to cripple government business and bring about the restoration of the elected government of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military response to the now-daily protests has become increasingly violent with at least 60 people thought to have been killed in the crackdowns and nearly 2,000 detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group that is monitoring the arrests.
On Tuesday, an National League for Democracy (NLD) official said the party’s Zaw Myat Linn had died in custody after he was detained in Yangon at about 1:30am (19:00 GMT on Monday). His wife said he had injuries to his abdomen.
Speaking on Tuesday in Washington, DC, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “repulsed” by the military’s continued use of lethal force, and urged the security forces to use “maximum” restraint in dealing with the protests.
“The latest escalations that we’ve seen in recent days of violence, it’s just another indication of the military’s complete disregard for the people of Burma.” Price said, using another name for Myanmar. “It’s unacceptable.”
The military has also stepped up actions against independent media reporting on the unrest, raiding offices and revoking licences. At least 35 journalists have been arrested since the coup, according to Myanmar Now, one of the news organisations that has come under fire. Of those detained, 19 have since been released.
Western countries have condemned the coup and tightened sanctions on some of the generals involved including coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.
The European Union has indicated tougher sanctions focusing on miltary-linked businesses, but the UN Security Council has been struggling to reach an agreement on a response.
On Tuesday, the 15-member body failed to agree on a statement that would have condemned the coup, called for restraint by the military and threatened to consider “further measures”.
China, Russia, India and Vietnam all suggested amendments to the text of a British draft, according to diplomats, including the removal of a reference to a coup and a threat to consider further action.
“Every member state has a role to play individually and collectively. Collectively, we are always looking for a strong voice and strong action from the Security Council,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters earlier on Tuesday.
Diplomatic efforts continued as it emerged that the generals had hired a Canadian PR firm on a $2m contract to work on their behalf at international organisations including the UN, as well as with governments in the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
Dickens and Madsen will “assist in explaining the real situation in the Country”, a filing with the US Department of Justice, said. The attached contract, dated March 4, was signed by the firm’s President and Director Ari Ben-Menashe and Mya Tun Oo, who is the defence minister in the military administration.
Some police have refused orders to fire on unarmed protesters and have fled to neighbouring India, Reuters reported, citing an interview with one officer and classified Indian police documents.
“As the civil disobedience movement is gaining momentum and protest(s) held by anti-coup protesters at different places we are instructed to shoot at the protesters,” four officers said in a joint statement to police in the Indian city of Mizoram.
“In such a scenario, we don’t have the guts to shoot at our own people who are peaceful demonstrators,” they said.
The army has said the coup was necessary because of fraud in the November election, which the NLD won in a landslide. The elections commission has rejected its claims, and its members were among those detained when the generals seized power.