Aung San Suu Kyi aide among new wave of arrests in Myanmar as Biden approves sanctions

A close aide to ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in a new wave of arrests following last week’s military coup, a party official said on Thursday (Feb 11), as Washington moved a step closer to imposing sanctions on the junta.

The aide, Kyaw Tint Swe, had served as Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since Feb 1.

Kyi Toe, an information committee member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), said Kyaw Tint Swe and four others 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 electoral fraud in November last year, which the NLD won in a landslide. The electoral commission had rejected those claims.

READ: Myanmar military seizes power, declares state of emergency for one year

Myanmar authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Reuters was unable to confirm the arrests independently. Scores of officials have been detained since the coup, including many of the NLD’s top leaders.

Protesters gathered across the country for a sixth straight day on Thursday.

READ: Dozens arrested as Myanmar protesters defy military warnings; water cannon fired for a second day

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 Aung San 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.

FILE PHOTO: People protest against the military coup and to demand the release of elected leader Au

People protest against the military coup and demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi outside the Japanese Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb10, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)

Hundreds of protesters also demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon, accusing Beijing of supporting the military 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.

US SANCTIONS LOOM

The protests have revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule punctuated with bloody 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, also known as Burma, having access to US$1 billion in Myanmar government funds held in the US.

“We’re also going to impose strong exports controls. We’re freezing US assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for health care, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly,” Biden said at the White House.

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 spanning sectors including banking, gems, copper, telecoms and clothing.

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

UN TO CONSIDER RESOLUTION

The United Nations’ top human rights body is to consider a resolution on Friday drafted by Britain and the EU 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.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning for democracy and remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Rohingyas.

She has 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.

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