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Myanmar carries out its first executions in decades, including democracy activists


Myanmar's military government has executed four people it accused of carrying out acts of terror. They're the first official executions in the Southeast Asian nation in decades and come as the military is embroiled in a nationwide conflict with those who oppose its 2021 coup. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from neighboring Thailand.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The four executed include Phyo Zayar Thaw, a former lawmaker from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and prominent Democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu - better known as Ko Jimmy - a veteran of the 1988 uprising against the military. State-run media said they were executed for committing, quote, "terrorist acts" against the military government that seized power early last year. Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

PHIL ROBERTSON: What this shows is the Myanmar military junta has decided that they're not worried about international opinion. And it shows that they're trying to intimidate the Burmese people and doing this by executing political prisoners.

SULLIVAN: He says the families of the men had not been informed before the executions were carried out.

ROBERTSON: We have been told Ko Jimmy's wife that they went to the prison, and the warden said, well, what you read about it in the newspapers is what you're going to hear. And that's it. It is, in fact, true that there was no advance notice given to the families, that these executions took place without them ever being able to say goodbye to their loved ones.

SULLIVAN: Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been killed by the military during the nationwide unrest since the coup. The U.N. estimates more than 700,000 have been forced to flee their homes. Robertson says he worries that the international community's initial outrage over the February 2021 coup has become muted, the world distracted by bigger conflicts such as the one in Ukraine. He hopes these executions serve as a wake-up call to Myanmar's neighbors, and the rest of the world, to hold Myanmar's military to account.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Chiang Rai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.