Myanmar junta threatens to downgrade Australia ties over snub

Shunned by western governments, the junta has turned to traditional allies, including Russia and China for support. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's junta on Thursday (May 19) threatened to downgrade diplomatic ties with Australia after it said Canberra would not replace its recently-departed ambassador to the military-run country.

Western governments have led international criticism of last year's coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's administration and unleashed a violent crackdown on dissent, with some imposing sanctions and meeting with opposition figures.

On Monday, Australian media reported that Canberra will not replace ambassador Andrea Faulkner, who finished her term in April, and will send instead a senior official to act as charge d'affaires.

Canberra had communicated the decision to the junta, permanent secretary of the regime's foreign affairs ministry Chan Aye told a press conference on Thursday.

"In response we are also working on having a charge d'affaires" run the Myanmar embassy in Australia, he said, without elaborating on whether Myanmar would recall its ambassador or downgrade their status. AFP has contacted Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment.

A meeting between the outgoing Faulkner and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in April was slammed by rights group as lending legitimacy to the military.

Chan Aye also said Britain's recent downgrading of its mission in the country was "unacceptable".

Peter Vowles was appointed as ambassador last July but is now charge d'affaires, according to the British foreign ministry website.

Vowles - who is currently outside Myanmar - would not be allowed to return to the country on his current status, Chan Aye said.

Ousted former president and head of state Win Myint is currently on trial in a junta court alongside Aung San Suu Kyi.

Recently-arrived ambassadors from India and Saudi Arabia have presented their credentials to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, according to reports in state media.

Shunned by western governments, the junta has turned to traditional allies, including Russia and China for support.

It has described Russia's invasion of Ukraine as "justified," backing its major ally and arms supplier.

The junta is otherwise increasingly isolated on the international stage, with Cambodian leader Hun Sen the only foreign leader to visit since the putsch.

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