Myanmar’s Suu Kyi 'looks healthy', lawyer says, as US orders non-essential staff to leave

Supporters of Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in custody since the military seized power.
Supporters of Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in custody since the military seized power.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Protesters taking part in a candlelit vigil in Yangon on March 13, 2021.
Protesters taking part in a candlelit vigil in Yangon on March 13, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar's deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in good health on Wednesday (March 31) during a video meeting, one of her lawyers said, as the United States ordered its non-essential embassy staff to leave after weeks of violence over a Feb 1 coup.

The detained Nobel laureate, who has been in custody since the military seized power, had wanted to meet her lawyers in person and did not agree to a wide discussion by video in the presence of police, lawyer Min Min Soe told Reuters by telephone.

"Amay looks healthy, her skin complexion is good," Mr Min Min Soe said, using an affectionate term meaning “mother” to refer to Ms Suu Kyi.

Only the legal cases against her that had been filed since the coup were discussed during the videoconference, the lawyer said.

Ms Suu Kyi, 75, was arrested the same day the military seized power and faces charges that include illegally importing six handheld radios and breaching coronavirus protocols.

The military has also accused her of bribery in two recent news conferences.

Her lawyers say the charges were trumped up and dismissed the accusation of bribery as a joke.

The next hearing in her case is on Thursday.

The military seized power saying that last November's election won by Ms Suu Kyi’s party was fraudulent. The election commission said the vote was fair.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since military rule was reimposed after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy.

At least 521 civilians have been killed in protests, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The advocacy group said another eight people died on Tuesday, when thousands came out to march in several towns, according to media and photos on social media.

There were also new candle-lit protests overnight in towns across Myanmar in defiance of a curfew, and at least one dawn march on Wednesday by demonstrators, media reports said.

The Karen National Union (KNU) rebel group, which operates along the eastern border with Thailand, said on Tuesday that it was bracing itself for a major government offensive.

The group urged the international community, neighbouring Thailand in particular, to help Karen people fleeing the "onslaught", and called for countries to cut ties with the junta to stop the violence against civilians.

Meanwhile, the Kachin Independence Army, a rebel group in the north, attacked a police station in Kachin state at 3am on Wednesday, the Kachin News Group said.

A march by civilian protesters also took place at dawn on Wednesday in Moegaung town in Kachin, the news service reported.

Police and a spokesman for the Myanmar junta did not answer calls seeking comment.

UN refugee agency concerned

The US on Tuesday ordered the departure of non-emergency US government employees and their family members from Myanmar due to concerns over civil unrest.

Opponents of the coup have called for a united front with insurgent groups.

Rebels have battled the government for decades for greater autonomy in remote border regions. The military has justified its long grip on power by saying it is the only institution capable of ensuring national unity.


Injured Karen villagers arriving at Thailand's northern Mae Hong Son province on March 30, 2021, after crossing the Thai-Myanmar border. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Military aircraft bombed KNU fighters at the weekend, sending about 3,000 villagers fleeing to Thailand.

Thailand denied accusations from activists that refugees were being forced to return, but a Thai official on the border said the army was sending most people back because it was deemed safe on the Myanmar side.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency said it was concerned about reports that people were being sent back and it was seeking information from Thailand.

A border state in India withdrew an order to refuse refugees food and shelter after the measure drew fierce public criticism.

US says violence 'reprehensible'

The military seized power saying that the November election won by Ms Suu Kyi's party was fraudulent, an assertion dismissed by the election commission.

A civil disobedience campaign of strikes has paralysed parts of the economy, and protesters stepped it up by asking residents on Tuesday to leave rubbish at city intersections.

Western countries have condemned the coup and the violence and called for Ms Suu Kyi's release, and some have imposed limited sanctions.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said some foreign countries and companies with significant investments in enterprises that support Myanmar's military should reconsider those stakes.

He said the recent violence was "reprehensible" and followed a pattern of "increasingly disturbing and even horrifying violence" against demonstrators opposing military rule.

Indonesia has led efforts by members of the 10-country Association of South-east Asian Nations, or Asean, of which Myanmar is a member, to encourage a negotiated solution, despite an old agreement not to comment on one another's problems.

Foreign criticism and Western sanctions against previous Myanmar juntas have had little short-term impact.