Myanmar police moved decisively on Saturday in a bid to prevent opponents of military rule gathering after Myanmar’s UN envoy urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to stop a February 1, 2021 coup.
The Southeast Asian country has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party had won in a landslide. Uncertainty has grown over Suu Kyi’s whereabouts, as the independent Myanmar Now website on Friday quoted officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party as saying she had been moved this week from house arrest to an undisclosed location.
The coup has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Myanmar’s streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.
Police were out in force early in the main city of Yangon and elsewhere, deployed at usual protest sites and detaining people as they congregated, witnesses said. People still gathered, their numbers building through the morning, to chant and sing, then melting away into side streets as police advanced, apparently setting off stun grenades and firing into the air. Similar scenes played out in the second city of Mandalay and elsewhere, media reported.
A protester in the central town of Monwya said police had fired water cannon as they surrounded a crowd. “They’ve blocked all the ways out,” Aye Aye Tint told Reuters from the town. “They used water cannon against peaceful protesters, they shouldn’t treat people like that.”
At the UN General Assembly, Myanmar’s ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun said he was speaking on behalf of Suu Kyi’s government and appealed to the body “to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people”. “We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people … and to restore the democracy,” he told the 193-member group, receiving applause as he finished.
‘Our Cause Will Prevail’
Kyaw Moe Tun appeared emotional as he read the statement on behalf of a group of elected politicians that he said represented the legitimate government. Delivering his final words in Burmese, the career diplomat raised the three-finger salute of pro-democracy protesters and announced, “our cause will prevail”.
Reuters was not immediately able to contact the army for comment.
Opponents of the coup hailed Kyaw Moe Tun as a hero and flooded social media with messages of thanks. “The people will win and the power-obsessed junta will fall,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook. UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews said he was overwhelmed as he watched the ambassador’s “act of courage”. “Despite enormous pressure to do otherwise, he spoke up for the people of Myanmar and against an illegal coup. It’s time for the world to answer that courageous call with action,” Andrews said on Twitter.
UN special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener called for a collective “clear signal in support of democracy”, saying no country should recognise or legitimise the junta.
China’s envoy did not criticise the coup and said the situation was Myanmar’s “internal affairs”, adding that it supported diplomacy by Southeast Asian countries, which protesters fear could give credibility to the ruling generals.
‘Loss of rights’
A lawyer acting for Suu Kyi, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters he had also heard from NLD officials that she had been moved from her home in the capital, Naypyitaw, but could not confirm it. Authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawyer said he had been given no access to Suu Kyi ahead of her next hearing on Monday, adding: “I’m concerned that there will be a loss of rights to access to justice and access to legal counsel”.
Protesters have been demanding the release of Suu Kyi, 75, and recognition of the result of last year’s election.
Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities were using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters have died. The army says a policeman was also killed.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate and daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under previous juntas. She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.
The army has promised an election but not given a date. It has imposed a one-year state of emergency. The question of an election is at the centre of a diplomatic effort by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member. Indonesia has taken the lead, but coup opponents fear the efforts could legitimise the junta.