Myanmar coup: West increases pressure on the country's generals

Myanmar plunged back into direct military rule on Monday when soldiers detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders.
Myanmar plunged back into direct military rule on Monday when soldiers detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders.PHOTO: AFP

MYANMAR (REUTERS, XINHUA) - The United Nations said it would mobilise international pressure to ensure the failure of Monday’s (Feb 1) military coup in Myanmar, but China said that any action taken by the UN should not further complicate the situation.

“We will do everything we can to mobilise all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during an interview broadcast by The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“It is absolutely unacceptable after elections – elections that I believe took place normally – and after a large period of transition.”

The 15-member UN Security Council is negotiating a possible statement in response to the junta’s actions. The initial draft put forward by Myanmar’s former colonial power Britain condemned the coup, and called for the military to respect the rule of law and human rights and immediately release those detained.

However, such statements have to be agreed by consensus and diplomats said the language would likely need to be softened to win the support of China and Russia, who have traditionally shielded Myanmar in the Security Council.

On Tuesday, the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Ms Christine Schraner Burgener, urged the Security Council to “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar”.

But a diplomat with China’s UN mission said any action should avoid escalating tension or complicating the situation.

China has not specifically condemned the coup in its neighbour but the foreign ministry rejected the suggestion that it supported or gave tacit consent to it.

“We wish that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately resolve their differences and uphold political and social stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular media briefing.

“The international community should create a sound external environment for Myanmar to properly resolve the differences,” Mr Wang said.

“All actions taken by the Security Council should be conducive to Myanmar’s political and social stability, peaceful reconciliation and avoid exacerbating tensions and further complicating the situation,” he added.

Addressing the coup in Myanmar was a priority for the United States and Washington was reviewing possible sanctions in response, the White House said on Wednesday.

The US has condemned the coup, and officials have said they were reviewing options including sanctions.

“I don’t have an exact timeline for you but it is a priority. And certainly reviewing our sanctions authorities and seeing where there’s action to take there is something the team is focused on,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.

The chairman of the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) parliamentarians for Human Rights, Mr Charles Santiago, said the new charges were ludicrous.

“This is an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimise their illegal power grab,” he said in a statement.

Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was detained on Monday, along with other civilian politicians. She is being held under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, according to an official from her party.

A police request to a court detailing the accusations against Ms Suu Kyi, 75, said six walkie-talkie radios had been found in a search of her home in Naypyidaw. The radios were imported illegally and used without permission, it said.

The document reviewed on Wednesday requested Ms Suu Kyi’s detention “in order to question witnesses, request evidence and seek legal counsel after questioning the defendant”.

A separate document showed police filed charges against ousted president Win Myint for violating protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus during campaigning for an election last November.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach the Myanmar police, the government or the court for comment.

Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won that election in a landslide but the military, headed by Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing, claimed the vote was marred by fraud and justified its seizure of power on those grounds. The electoral commission had said the vote was fair.

Ms Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led the country’s democracy movement, and she remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees.

The military had ruled Myanmar from 1962 until Ms Suu Kyi’s party came to power in 2015 under a constitution that guarantees the generals a major role in government.

The junta has declared a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hold fair elections, but has not said when.