Holding cardboard signs with slogans like “Help Us Save Myanmar!” and flags representing the country’s ethnic diversity, members of Bowling Green’s Myanmarese community turned out by the dozens Sunday to condemn an ongoing military coup there.
Among them was Aung San Su Hein, an officer with the local Myanmar Community Association. For her, the coup wasn’t some distant international issue. It was personal.
“I do have family back in Myanmar. I’m very worried about their safety,” Aung San Su Hein said, adding she’s had no contact with them out of fear of exposing them to violent retribution by the military junta.
She relayed an account of an infant who needed to have one leg amputated after surviving a bombing.
“It’s very dangerous for us to contact them,” she said of her family.
Aung San Su Hein’s story is merely a microcosm of the broader Myanmarese community in Bowling Green, she said.
As community members have turned out for sustained protests against the coup, they’ve watched the civilian death toll rapidly grow.
“We’re doing as much as we can,” she said, describing the community’s efforts to fundraise for donations and raise awareness about the acts of torture civilians are enduring.
State Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, appeared to be the only local lawmaker who attended the march.
“I think it’s very important that the Burmese community see that their state representative is here for them in a time of great crisis in their community. The junta has done terrible things in Myanmar,” she said, referencing a massacre of innocents – including more than 300 children – as one example. “I always want to stand up and show up for my community, and I stand for human rights.”
On Saturday, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for an end to the violence that has gripped Myanmar. Since the coup began Feb. 1, daily shootings by police and soldiers have killed more than 700 mostly peaceful protesters and bystanders, the Associated Press reported.
“The situation in Myanmar is unacceptable and should not continue. Violence must be stopped, democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be returned immediately,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said during an emergency summit in Jakarta with the coup leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. “The interests of the people of Myanmar must always be the priority.”
During the summit, ASEAN leaders released a five-point consensus, which urged for an immediate end to the violence in Myanmar. Min Aung Hlaing did not immediately comment on the consensus, according to Axios.
The consensus also called for peaceful dialogue and said that an ASEAN representative must be allowed to visit Myanmar to meet with stakeholders; notably however, the consensus did not mention the release of political prisoners, which some leaders had demanded during the summit, per the AP.
ASEAN member nations also promised humanitarian aid to Myanmar while refraining from referring to Min Aung Hlaing as the country’s head of state, which would have legitimized his coup, a Southeast Asian diplomat told the AP.
Characterizing the Myanmar coup leader’s response to the consensus, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Min Aung Hlaing was “not opposed” to a visit from ASEAN representatives or to receiving humanitarian aid, according to a BBC report.
“He said he heard us, he would take the points in which he considered helpful,” Lee Hsien Loong told the BBC.
The divergent ties of many ASEAN members to either China or the United States, along with a bedrock policy of non-interference in each other’s affairs and deciding by consensus, has hobbled the bloc’s ability to rapidly deal with crises, according to the AP.
Locally, however, the crisis has affected the entire Myanmarese community. Artit Kyaw has followed the violence despite only being 11 years old.
“I’m devastated,” he said. “It just really makes me sad to think that they would kill innocent people for just protesting.”
Rara Marip pleaded for the U.S. to support the “Spring Revolution” by donating to campaigns supporting protesters and civilians and by supporting Myanmar refugees.
“We all want our freedom … we deserve this,” she said.