Singapore: Australia’s top military officer has joined with defence chiefs from the United States, Britain and nine other countries to “condemn the use of lethal force against unarmed people” by the Myanmar junta after 114 people, including children, were killed on the bloodiest day since it seized power nearly two months ago.
The slaughter on Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of an uprising against Japanese occupation in 1945, increased the number of deaths in the crackdown against the pro-democracy movement to more than 420, according to activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Anti-coup protesters put out fires during a protest in Thaketa, Myanmar, on Saturday.Credit:AP
Among the latest casualties across the country were two 13-year-olds, while in the main city of Yangon a one-year-old baby was struck in the eye by a rubber bullet.
The bloodshed has triggered further international outcry including from Chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell, who on Sunday was a signatory to a statement released by a dozen defence chiefs around the world.
“As chiefs of defense, we condemn the use of lethal force against unarmed people by the Myanmar Armed Forces and associated security services,” it said.
“A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting – not harming – the people it serves.”
The statement, signed by defence chiefs of the US, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea as well as by Campbell, did not denounce the February 1 coup itself but urged the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, “to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions.”
Military vehicles parade on Armed Forces Day in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw on Saturday.Credit:AP
Austarlia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne also weighed in on Sunday, saying Australia “strongly condemns the continued and horrific use of lethal force against civilians in Myanmar”.
“We urgently call on the Myanmar security forces to exercise restraint, uphold the rule of law and allow the Myanmar people to exercise their rights to peaceful protest,” she said.
The Australian government is, however, yet to follow through with fresh sanctions against the new regime in the south-east Asian nation including junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing despite suspending its defence co-operation program with Myanmar this month.
The US last week stepped up its response to the coup leaders by blacklisting the rich and powerful military conglomerates Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL). Britain and the European Union have also racheted up sanctions in recent days. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has been particularly forthright during the crisis, labelled the latest killings “a new low” and vowed to “hold those responsible to account and secure a path back to democracy”.
Australia’s response has been less assertive but it has been complicated by the detention since February 6 of Sydney economist Sean Turnell, an advisor to Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who herself has been been under house arrest since the morning the military took over.
Turnell is being investigated over breaches of Myanmar’s official secrets and immigration acts and while friends of his have slammed them as trumped-up charges, Australian officials in Canberra and Yangon have not been able to secure his release.
Fellow Australians Matthew O’Kane and Canadian-Australian Christa Avery, who run a business consultancy in Yangon and have worked in agriculture development in Myanmar for 10 years, were also prevented from leaving the country on a relief flight a week ago for unexplained reasons.
The three are the only foreigners reported to have been held by security forces since Myanmar’s decade-long flirtation with democracy was abruptly ended.
Myanmar-born Sydney businesswoman Sophia Sarkis addresses the 2000-strong crowd at the vigil on Saturday.Credit:Andy Myint
While there was widespread condemnation of the dramatic upsurge in violence on the weekend, Myanmar’s generals are not without friends if the guest list at their pompous parade of soldiers and military vehicles in the capital Naypyitaw is anything to go by.
Russia’s Defence Minister Alexander Fomin was in attendance on Saturday as the military marked Armed Forces Day while China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand also sent representatives from their diplomatic missions.
Tom Andrews, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, called for a robust, co-ordinated international response via the UN Security Council, saying “words are not enough”. But with Russia and China having the power of veto as permanent members of the security council, reaching a consensus about a course of action in that arena is far from straightforward.
“If the Security Council cannot act, then an international emergency summit on Myanmar should be organised and convened immediately,” Andrews said.
As the brutality across Myanmar escalated, 2000 people gathered in Sydney on Saturday in a demonstration of solidarity with the Burmese people.
“It is the saddest day, a day of shame for the military,” said Sophia Sarkis, one of the organisers of the Justice for Myanmar vigil.
The Sydney businesswoman experienced the brutality of Myanmar’s junta first-hand as a teenager during the 1988 democratic uprising.
“We are all emotionally exhausted, our hearts are wounded,” she said. “Our people in Burma, their human rights were simply destroyed by the terrorists. We no longer see them as a military, they are terrorists.”
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