Myanmar junta says Aung San Suu Kyi accepted illegal payments of S$804,000; 8 killed in anti-coup protests

Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said that Ms Aung San Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments worth US$600,000. PHOTOS: AFP
Protesters carry materials to build a barricade in Yangon on March 11, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Protesters build a barricade in Yangon on March 11, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

MYANMAR (REUTERS) - Myanmar's military government accused deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday (March 11) of accepting illegal payments, while eight people were killed when security forces opened fire on protests against the coup, witnesses said.

Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference that Ms Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments worth US$600,000 (S$804,000) as well as gold while in government, according to a complaint by Mr Phyo Mien Thein, a former chief minister of Yangon.

"He strongly said that," the spokesman said. "We have verified those facts several times. Now the anti-corruption committee is continuing the investigation."

He said President Win Myint and several Cabinet ministers had also engaged in corruption and that the president had pressured the election commission not to act on the military's reports of irregularities.

The allegations were the strongest yet by the military since it overthrew the country's top leaders on Feb 1. They remain under house arrest.

Ms Suu Kyi is also accused of an array of other charges, including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios.

At the press conference, Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun also confirmed that a lobbyist had been hired to address an international misperception and said that security forces were disciplined and had used force only when necessary, although he said beatings may have happened on all sides due to provocations.

On Thursday, six people were killed in the central town of Myaing when forces fired on a protest, a man who took part in the demonstration and helped carry bodies to hospital told Reuters by telephone. A health worker there confirmed all six deaths.

"We protested peacefully," the 31-year-old man said. "I couldn't believe they did it."

One person was killed in the North Dagon district of the biggest city of Yangon, witnesses said. Photographs posted on Facebook showed a man prone on the street, bleeding from a head wound.

One death was reported in Mandalay.

Before Thursday's deaths, an advocacy group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, had said more than 60 protesters were killed and about 2,000 people detained by security forces since the Feb 1 coup against Ms Suu Kyi' s elected government.

Rights group Amnesty International accused the military of adopting battle tactics against demonstrators.

It said many killings it had documented amounted to extrajudicial executions.

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"These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions," said Ms Joanne Mariner, the group's director of crisis response.

"These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open," she said.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said that the unrest was not a situation that should be of concern to the international community and the West was making assumptions that were incorrect, he added.

The military has previously said it is acting with utmost restraint in handling what it describes as demonstrations by "riotous protesters" whom it accuses of attacking police and harming national security and stability.

"We will hold an election and we will hand over to the winning party," Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said.

"We respect neighbouring countries and international community but we will continue with our five objectives."

The military also respects and values media freedom and has only arrested journalists who were inciting unrest, he said.

Myanmar's military-appointed election commission has also met political parties which are suggesting changing the country's electoral system to proportional representation, according to election commissioner Khin Maung Oo.

The commissioner also mentioned the body needed time to study the idea but cannot say for sure if it will be adopted, adding "we haven't decided anything, we are still learning the system".

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun also announced that Myanmar's military was helping more than 1,000 of its nationals, who he said were in trouble in Malaysia, by facilitating their return recently.

He was referring to a recent mass deportation that human rights groups had sought to block due to concerns about their welfare.

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Malaysia sent more than 1,000 Myanmar nationals back to their strife-torn homeland on Tuesday despite a court order to halt the deportation, a move rights groups said could endanger the deportees' lives.

UN fails to call the takeover a coup

The army has justified taking power by saying that a November election, overwhelmingly won by Ms Suu Kyi' s National League for Democracy, was marred by fraud - an assertion rejected by the electoral commission.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun also reiterated that the military would be in charge for only a certain period before holding an election. "We are on the road to authentic democracy," he said.

The junta had previously promised a new election within a year, but has not set a date.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned violence against protesters and urged the army to show restraint.

But language that would have denounced the military takeover as a coup or threatened possible further action was removed from the British-drafted text, due to opposition by China, India, Russia and Vietnam.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned violence against protesters and urged the army to show restraint. PHOTO: AFP

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the Security Council statement would push the military to realise it "is absolutely essential" that all prisoners are released and the results of the November election are respected.

In Myanmar, state media said the junta had removed Arakan Army (AA) insurgents from its list of terrorist groups because the faction had stopped attacks, in order to help establish peace across the country.

The move comes as the army struggles to restrain daily protests against the coup.

The AA, which is fighting for greater autonomy in the western state of Rakhine, had become one of the most formidable forces in challenging an army that has been fighting various ethnic wars for seven decades.

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