Tightening the noose on pro-democracy protestors, Myanmar's military junta has deployed a notorious infantry unit in Mandalay. On Saturday, two protestors were shot in what many see as the huge escalation of the crackdown on peaceful protests across the nation.

According to local media, police and troops fired live rounds into a crowd of protesting dockyard employees in the country's second region, killing two and injuring several others.

Myanmar Coup

Notably, the violence constituted the deadliest single day since General Min Aung Hlaing, the military commander-in-chief, overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power in a coup on February 1.

The outbreak of violence was undeterred by demonstrators, with crowds assembling on Sunday in Mandalay and Yangon, the commercial center. Mya Thwe Thwe Khine, the first reported survivor of the coup, died on Friday after being shot in Naypyidaw.

Myanmar Military
Myanmar Military TroopsREUTERS

Notorious Division dispatched to Mandalay

On Saturday, witnesses in Mandalay confirmed spotting soldiers from the 33rd Light Infantry Division, which in 2017 led to the deadly assault in western Rakhine state against Rohingya Muslims. Human rights organizations working to piece together Mandalay witness accounts and videos said that it was not yet clear if the fatal shots had been delivered by police or soldiers.

Rights watchdogs expressed concern at the deployment of a unit by the junta accused of crimes against civilians, including the massacre of ten Rohingya citizens. In 2019, the US Treasury levied sanctions on Aung Aung, the commander of the division.

A burned-out village in Rakhine state during the military crackdown on Rohingya in 2017 Reuters

Why is 33rd Light Infantry Division infamous?

The 33rd Light Infantry Division led the crackdown in 2017 when Rohingya militants launched attacks in northern Rakhine state. Their subsequent brutality forced 700,000 Rohingya to flee into nearby Bangladesh. The United Nations has said the military may have committed genocide. Moreover, the operation has been termed ethnic cleansing by the United States.

Myanmar soldiers have been widely reported to have committed mass killings and burned down Rohingya villages. However, the government refuted claims of ethnic cleansing and said the security forces were carrying out legal counter-insurgency operations against Rohingya insurgents.