South Korea to suspend defence exchanges with Myanmar, reconsider aid

Myanmar nationals living in South Korea flash the three-finger salute during a protest against the Myanmar military coup in Seoul, on March 10, 2021.
Myanmar nationals living in South Korea flash the three-finger salute during a protest against the Myanmar military coup in Seoul, on March 10, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea will suspend defence exchanges with Myanmar and ban arms exports to the country after a military coup and violent suppression of pro-democracy protests, the foreign ministry said on Friday (March 12).

The ministry also said Seoul would limit exports of other strategic items, reconsider development aid and grant humanitarian exemptions for Myanmar nationals to allow them to stay in South Korea until the situation improves.

"Despite repeated demands of the international community, including South Korea, there are an increasing number of victims in Myanmar due to violent acts of the military and police authorities," the ministry said in a statement.

The last defence exports from South Korea to Myanmar were in 2019, but Seoul still spends millions of dollars on development projects there, according to data filed with the International Aid Transparency Initiative.

The South Korean government would reconsider some unspecified developmental cooperation with Myanmar, but would continue projects that are directly linked to the livelihood of Myanmar citizens and humanitarian aid, the statement said.

Myanmar activists held more rallies on Friday, a day after a rights group said security forces killed 12 protesters calling for a return to democracy and as the lawyer of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi ridiculed new bribery allegations against her.

The deaths took to more than 70 the number of protesters killed since the coup, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group said.

The South-east Asian country has been in crisis since the army ousted the elected government of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, and detained her and other officials of her National League for Democracy.

Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said on Thursday Ms Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments worth US$600,000 (S$806,643), as well as gold, while in government, according to a complaint by Phyo Mien Thein, a former chief minister of Yangon.

Adding corruption charges to the accusations facing Ms Suu Kyi, 75, could bring her a harsher penalty. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate now faces four comparatively minor charges, such as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and flouting coronavirus curbs.