As pro-democracy protesters returned to the streets in spite of a brutal crackdown on protests, the European Union and the United States slapped sanctions on top police and military commanders linked to last month’s coup in Myanmar.
The junta is steadily using lethal force to suppress activists protesting the military’s February 1 ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The European Union put Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on an asset freeze and visa ban blacklist on Monday in an attempt to increase international pressure on the regime.
According to Myanmar’s official publication, Min Aung Hlaing is “responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar.”
In the EU’s most detailed response to the February 1 coup, the 27-nation bloc also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on nine other senior military officers and the president of Myanmar’s election commission.
The Treasury Department in Washington sanctioned Myanmar’s police chief and an army special operations officer, alleging that they were involved in the use of lethal force against protesters.
When anti-coup protests first started, security forces did not use force to disperse demonstrators; however, after Than Hlaing was named police chief and deputy home affairs minister on February 2, “Burma’s police have engaged in brutal acts of violence against pro-democracy protesters,” it said.
According to the Treasury Department, Army commander Aung Soe was in charge of dispatching troops to meet demonstrators with battlefield arms and tactics, “demonstrating that lethal force is being used in a prepared, premeditated, and organized manner against the anti-coup protests.”
Two army infantry divisions involved in putting down the demonstrations were also included in the sanctions.
The US has also imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s top junta officials.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring organisation, more than 2,600 people have been detained and 250 people have been killed since the coup.
Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC’s Burmese service, was released on Monday, according to a news item on the broadcaster’s website.
On Friday, he was detained by plainclothes men while reporting outside a court in the capital, Naypyidaw. Than Htike Aung of the local news outlet Mizzima, who was arrested at the same time, is still in detention.
The junta has attempted to stifle reporting on the demonstrations and crackdown by revoking the licenses of independent local media outlets, including Mizzima, raiding newsrooms, and arresting journalists.
Hundreds of people, including teachers, marched through Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, early Monday, some bearing placards calling for UN involvement in the crisis.
Mandalay has seen some of the worst violence of the crackdown, with eight more deaths confirmed on Sunday, according to an AFP medical source, with up to 50 people injured.
Machine gunfire erupted late into the night across the 1.7 million-strong metropolis.
“People were really scared and felt insecure the whole night,” a doctor told AFP by phone.
A group of doctors in Mandalay staged a “placard only” demonstration by lining up signs in the street to condemn the violent crackdown, according to Voice of Myanmar.
A similar “monkless” protest was staged by a group of monks.
Early morning demonstrations were also held in parts of Yangon, the country’s commercial capital and largest city, with drivers honking their horns in support of the anti-coup movement.
Hundreds of red helium balloons with posters calling for a UN intervention to stop atrocities were released in Yangon’s Hlaing township, according to local media.
Hundreds also protested in Monywa, the central city, in protest of the death of a man who was killed during clashes with security forces on Sunday, according to local media.
– ‘Unbearable’ extent of murder –
Myanmar’s generals have shown no inclination to heed calls for restraint.
As EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to sign off on the sanctions, Germany’s Heiko Maas said, “The number of murders has reached an unbearable level, and that is why we will not be able to resist implementing sanctions.”
Similar steps have also been taken in the United Kingdom.
According to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the new EU and US sanctions “send a clear signal that we will… continue to take measures against coup leaders and those who perpetrate aggression.”
Indonesia and Malaysia have called for an emergency meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address the crisis.
Following the call, Singapore’s Foreign Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, went on a whistle-stop diplomatic tour that included stops in Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
In terms of business, EDF, a French energy company, announced that a $1.5 billion hydropower dam project in Myanmar had been halted as a result of the coup.
Meanwhile, Australia and Canada have reported that two company consultants detained in Myanmar are receiving consular assistance.
After attempting to flee the country on a relief flight on Friday, Matthew O’Kane and Christa Avery, a dual Canadian-Australian resident, are reportedly under house arrest.
In Yangon, the couple runs a consulting firm.
The foreign ministries of Canada and Australia have declined to comment further on the situation.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN