YANGON: Kneeling before them in the dust of a northern Myanmar city, Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng begged a group of heavily armed police officers to spare “the children” and take her life instead.
The image of the Catholic nun in a simple white habit, her hands spread, pleading with the forces of the country’s new junta as they prepared to crack down on a protest, has gone viral and won her praise in the country.
“I knelt down … begging them not to shoot and torture the children, but to shoot me and kill me instead,” she said. Her act of bravery in the city of Myitkyina came as Myanmar struggles with the chaotic aftermath of the military’s ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
As protests demanding the return of democracy have rolled on, the junta has steadily escalated its use of force, using tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, and live rounds.
Protesters took to the streets of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, on Monday wearing hard hats and carrying homemade shields. As police started massing around them, Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng and two other nuns pleaded with them to leave. “The police were chasing to arrest them and I was worried for the children,” she said. It was at that point that the 45-year-old nun fell to her knees.
Tawng, who runs a clinic in the town, said in an interview that she had received assurances from senior officers that they were just clearing the road.
She and one of the policemen were seen on video touching their foreheads to the ground, but gunfire started soon afterwards. “The children panicked and ran to the front … I couldn’t do anything but I was praying for God to save and help the children,” she said.
She also said that they “heard loud gunshots, and saw that a young kid’s head had exploded, and there was a river of blood on the street”. Tawng said she tried to bring some of the victims to the clinic before she was blinded by tear gas. “Our clinic floor became a sea of blood,” she said. “We need to value life. It made me feel so sad.”
A local rescue team confirmed that two men were shot dead on the spot during Monday’s clash, though it did not confirm whether live rounds or rubber bullets were used.
On Tuesday, one of the deceased, Zin Min Htet, was laid in a glass casket and transported on a golden hearse covered in white and red flowers. Mourners raised three fingers in a symbol of resistance, as a musical ensemble of brass instrument players, drummers and a bagpiper in crisp white uniforms led the funeral procession.
Kachin, Myanmar’s northernmost state, is home to the Kachin ethnic group, and the site of a years-long conflict between ethnic armed groups and the military. Tens of thousands have fled their homes to displacement camps across the state – and among the organisations aiding them have been Christian groups.
The city has seen frequent crackdowns from authorities since the coup, including a violent dispersal of peaceful teachers last month that sent several into hiding.
More than 60 people have been killed in anti-coup demonstrations around the country, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.