Suu Kyi's close aide held in new wave of detentions

Arrests come as US set to impose sanctions on Myanmar junta

Protesters demonstrating outside the Chinese Embassy in Yangon yesterday, accusing Beijing of supporting the junta despite denials by China. Separately, hundreds of workers lined a road in the capital Naypyitaw yesterday in support of the civil disob
Protesters demonstrating outside the Chinese Embassy in Yangon yesterday, accusing Beijing of supporting the junta despite denials by China. Separately, hundreds of workers lined a road in the capital Naypyitaw yesterday in support of the civil disobedience movement, chanting anti-junta slogans and carrying placards supporting detained Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON • A close aide to ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained in a new wave of arrests following last week's military coup, a party official said yesterday, as Washington moved a step closer to imposing sanctions on the junta.

The aide, Mr Kyaw Tint Swe, had served as minister for the office of the state counsellor under Ms Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the Feb 1 coup.

Mr Kyi Toe, an information committee member of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said Mr Kyaw Tint Swe and four other people linked to the previous government had been taken from their homes overnight, and the top leadership of the former electoral commission had all been arrested.

The military launched the coup after what it said was widespread fraud in last November's elections, won by the NLD in a landslide. The electoral commission had rejected those claims.

Scores of officials have been detained since the coup, including many of the NLD's top leaders.

Security forces have used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against the protesters, with isolated reports of live rounds also being fired.

Still, protesters gathered across the country for a sixth straight day yesterday. Hundreds of workers lined a road in the capital Naypyitaw in support of the civil disobedience movement, chanting anti-junta slogans and carrying placards supporting Ms Suu Kyi.

In line with the creative ethos of recent demonstrations where some protesters have worn ball gowns and fancy dress, rallies in Yangon included men and boys dressed in short skirts. "We don't take off our skirt until we get democracy back," one sign read.

Hundreds of protesters also demonstrated outside the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, accusing Beijing of supporting the junta despite Chinese denials.

"Support Myanmar, don't support dictators," read one of the placards in Chinese and English.

The Chinese Embassy made no immediate response. Late on Wednesday, it posted a statement on Facebook dismissing reports on the Internet of Chinese planes bringing in technical personnel, and said the only flights were regular cargo flights importing and exporting goods such as seafood.

The protests have revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule, punctuated with bloody army crackdowns, until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday approved an executive order for new sanctions on those responsible for the coup, and repeated demands for the generals to give up power and free civilian leaders.

Washington would identify the first round of targets this week and was taking steps to prevent the generals in Myanmar from having access to US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) in Myanmar government funds held in the United States.

"We're also going to impose strong export controls. We're freezing US assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for healthcare, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly," Mr Biden said at the White House, using Myanmar's former name.

Washington is likely to target coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals who are already under US sanctions imposed in 2019 over abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.

It could also target military holding companies with investments in sectors including banking, gems, copper, telecoms and clothing.

The overthrow of Myanmar's civilian government presents Mr Biden with his first major international crisis, and a test of his dual pledges to recentre human rights in foreign policy and work more closely with allies.

The United Nations' top human rights body is to consider a resolution today drafted by Britain and the European Union condemning the coup and demanding urgent access for monitors.

However, diplomats said China and Russia - which both have ties to Myanmar's armed forces - are expected to raise objections or try to weaken the text.

Ms Suu Kyi, 75, won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and remains hugely popular at home, despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Rohingya. She spent nearly 15 years under house arrest and now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies. Her lawyer says he has not been allowed to see her.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2021, with the headline 'Suu Kyi's close aide held in new wave of detentions'. Subscribe