UN envoy says Union of Burma in danger of at hand ‘bloodbath’, as new charges against ousted leader emerge Aung San Suu Kyi and her Australian economic adviser
are among several people charged with breaking Myanmar’s
colonial-era official secrets law, in an escalation of the campaign against the deposed civilian leader by the junta that overthrew her government two months ago.
Her lawyer revealed the fresh accusations as the UN security council was warned that Myanmar was at risk of civil war and an imminent “bloodbath” if military rulers continued to violently repress the protest movement that has emerged since the coup.
Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) have been detained since the coup, and the junta had earlier accused her of several minor offences including illegally importing six handheld radios and breaching coronavirus protocols.
Her chief lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said Aung San Suu Kyi, three of her deposed cabinet ministers and a detained Australian economist, Sean Turnell, were charged a week ago in a Yangon court under the official secrets law, and he learned of the new charges two days ago.
A conviction under the law can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years. A spokesperson for the junta did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, who won the Nobel peace prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar, appeared via video link for a hearing in connection with the earlier charges on Thursday. Another of her lawyers, Min Min Soe, said she appeared to be in good health.
“Amay Su and President U Win Myint are in good health,” the lawyer said, referring to the deposed leader by an affectionate term for mother. Win Myint, an Aung San Suu Kyi ally, was also deposed and detained in the coup. He too faces various charges. Their lawyers have said the charges against both of them are trumped up.
The UK government on Thursday sought to increase pressure on the regime with sanctions against a military-linked conglomerate and extra funding to a body investigating and preserving evidence of serious human rights violations in the country, where at least 520 pro-democracy protesters have been killed since 1 February according to an estimate provided to the UN.
“Two months on from the start of the coup, the Myanmar military has sunk to a new low with the wanton killing of innocent people, including children,” said Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary. “The UK’s latest actions target one of the military’s key funding streams.”
A closed-doors UN security council session was told on Thursday that without action, order in the country could break down.
“I appeal to this council to consider all available tools to take collective action and do what is right, what the people of Myanmar deserve, and prevent a multidimensional catastrophe in the heart of Asia,” the special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told delegates.
She said she remained open for dialogue with the junta, but added: “If we wait only for when they are ready to talk, the ground situation will only worsen. A bloodbath is imminent.”
Myanmar’s alternative civilian government, the CRPH, which was set up by MPs in hiding following the coup, has declared invalid the 2008 constitution that automatically gave the military a quarter of seats on parliament and a constitutional veto.
The CRPH announced on social media a “federal democracy charter” to serve as an interim constitution. While more symbolic than practical, the move could help persuade the armed militias maintained by the country’s ethnic minorities to ally themselves with the CPRH and the mass protest movement against the military’s seizure of power.
The new framework includes a “national unity” caretaker government that would guide the country until a permanent constitution could be decided at a convention. The junta has declared the CRPH an illegal body, guilty of treason.
About 40 protesters marched up and down residential streets in downtown Yangon at midday on Thursday. On the first street, residents applauded from their balconies as the demonstrators laid out a copy of the military-drafted constitution and set it on fire. Revolutionary chants filled the air as one of the participants said the charter, which would ensure troops stayed in parliament with elected officials, was finally finished.
“Of course, we are worried about the soldiers or police coming now,” she said. “They have weapons, and we have nothing.”
Two men ran towards the crowd and signalled that security forces had arrived, triggering a run for cover. When it appeared that the police would not come, the demonstrators gathered again, brushed away the ashes from the fire and continued their march, leaving a rectangle of soot on the asphalt.
On Saturday the military launched the first airstrikes in Karen state in 20 years after a rebel group seized a military base, raising fears of a return to armed conflict in the ethnically diverse nation.
“The military’s cruelty is too severe and many [armed ethnic fighters] are taking clear stances of opposition, increasing the possibility of civil war at an unprecedented scale,” Burgener said. “Failure to prevent further escalation of atrocities will cost the world so much more in the longer term than investing now in prevention.”