UN rebukes Myanmar’s military over violent protest clampdown

by AFP

YANGON – The United Nations on Wednesday condemned the Myanmar military’s violent crackdown against anti-coup demonstrators, as China’s UN ambassador called for de-escalation and American authorities sanctioned members of the junta leader’s family.

International pressure has mounted since the army ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month, triggering daily protests around the country.

Calls for restraint have also grown more urgent as security forces have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown involving tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, as well as isolated incidents of live rounds.

Diplomats told AFP the statement agreed by the UN’s Security Council “strongly condemns the use of violence against peaceful protesters”, the second show of unity on Myanmar’s crisis in just over a month for its 15 members, which include China.

“Now it’s time for de-escalation. It’s time for diplomacy. It’s time for dialogue,” said the UN’s Chinese ambassador Zhang Jun following the condemnation.

The United States also applied fresh pressure with sanctions against Aung Pyae Sone and Khin Thiri Thet Mon, two adult children of Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

The pair have a variety of business holdings that have directly benefitted from their “father’s position and malign influence”, said a US Treasury statement.

Close to 2,000 people have been arrested and the death toll has climbed to more than 60 in a post-coup crackdown.

Thousands of government workers across the country have been participating in a civil disobedience movement aimed at choking state institutions and paralysing the economy.

The movement has resulted in hospital disruptions, bank closures and empty ministry offices.

Hundreds of soldiers and police were deployed early Wednesday morning to Ma Hlwa Gone railway station and its staff housing compound, where about 800 workers were participating in strike action.

“Around 300 security personnel are blocking the road searching for the people who are involved in the civil disobedience movement,” a 32-year-old woman who lives at the site told AFP.

“I just hope they don’t arrest the people, if they do it is troubling because they could beat and kill them.”

‘Severely beaten’

There was a heavy police presence in Yangon’s central San Chaung township on Wednesday following chaos two nights ago when security forces sealed off a block of streets, confining around 200 anti-coup protesters before searching apartments.

There were also tense scenes in the North Okkalapa area as about 100 protesters were arrested.

“Some of them were severely beaten, but the people are still continuing their protest,” a local rescue worker told AFP.

A live video stream showed people coughing and washing their faces after tear gas was deployed and there were reports of gunfire.

“A girl was wounded in her pelvic area by gunshot and she was taken to her home because the hospital is occupied by the security forces,” a rescue worker said.

The US and British embassies in Yangon said there were reports of students and civilians being surrounded by security forces in North Okkalapa.

“We call on those security forces to withdraw from the area, release those detained, and allow people to depart safely,” the US embassy tweeted.

The coup and crackdown have triggered international condemnation.

“I hope that with this statement, there will be an increasing conscience in the military in Myanmar that it is absolutely essential to release all prisoners,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, referring to the Security Council statement.

But not all countries are giving Myanmar the pariah treatment — the Sri Lankan government has invited the junta’s appointed foreign minister to economic cooperation talks in early April.

‘Act of intimidation’

Meanwhile, a lobbyist recruited to represent the junta internationally is set to pocket a $2 million fee, according to documents filed to the US Justice Department seen Wednesday by AFP.

Israeli-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe and his Montreal-based firm Dickens and Madson signed a contract with the regime on March 4.

Part of their remit is “to assist in explaining the real situation in the country”, while lobbying to get sanctions lifted.

The military has sought to stem the flow of news of its crackdown, throttling the country’s internet every night and stepping up pressure on independent media.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the ongoing information crackdown and characterised the raids on local media as “a shocking act of intimidation”.

It said at least 28 journalists had been arrested since the coup and about 11 were still in custody including an Associated Press photographer.