Britain tells citizens to quit Myanmar, Suu Kyi lawyer denies graft

By: AFP      Published: 05:30 PM, 12 Mar, 2021
Britain tells citizens to quit Myanmar, Suu Kyi lawyer denies graft

Britain on Friday advised its citizens to flee Myanmar, as ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyer rejected junta corruption claims against her as 'groundless'.

The military authorities are cracking down with increasing severity on daily protests against their February 1 coup, with at least 70 people killed according to the UN's top rights expert on the country.

The turmoil prompted Britain, the former colonial ruler, to urge its citizens to get out if they could, warning that "political tension and unrest are widespread since the military takeover and levels of violence are rising".

"The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advises British nationals to leave the country by commercial means, unless there is an urgent need to stay," the British foreign ministry said.

The military -- which has defended its takeover by citing alleged voting irregularities in November elections won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party -- held a rare news conference on Thursday accusing her of corruption.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said the detained chief minister of Yangon admitted giving Suu Kyi $600,000 in cash, along with more than 11 kilograms ($680,000 worth) of gold.

Illegal mudslinging

Suu Kyi's lawyer Khin Maung Zaw on Friday rejected the claims.

"This allegation against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor, is groundless, especially regarding the dollars and gold bars -- it is the most hilarious joke of all," he told AFP.

"I've never seen such an illegal mudslinging." 

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi faces other criminal charges including owning unlicensed walkie-talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions by staging a campaign event in 2020.

Suu Kyi -- not seen in public since being detained on February 1 -- has a court hearing on Monday, but Khin Maung Zaw complained that he has not been able to have a private meeting with her.

The junta has sought to stem the flow of news about the crackdown, throttling the country's internet connection every night, revoking media licences and raiding independent media offices.

Five journalists, including Associated Press photographer Thein Zaw, were formally charged on Friday over their coverage of the protests under a law against "causing fear, spreading false news or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee".

Thein Zaw's brother told AFP that he had been able to go into the court to see him via video conference. 

"We got the chance to speak for two minutes," said Myint Kyaw, adding that his brother was in tears. 

"He said he's still okay inside and not to worry too much about him and that he is in good health."

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 24. 

Elsewhere, the foreign ministry in Warsaw confirmed that a Polish journalist had been detained in Myanmar, and said they were seeking to establish "urgent contact" with him.

Crimes against humanity

International pressure has been building on the Myanmar junta, but it has shown no signs of heeding calls for restraint, continuing to try to quell daily protests by force.

The United Nations has condemned the crackdown, which has seen more than 2,000 people arrested, with even traditional Myanmar ally China calling for "de-escalation" and dialogue.

The Kremlin said Friday it was "concerned" about rising civilian casualties, calling the situation in Myanmar "alarming".

On Thursday Thomas Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, gave a stark assessment of the crisis. 

The country is "controlled by a murderous, illegal regime" that was likely committing "crimes against humanity," Andrews told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

These crimes likely include "acts of murder, enforced disappearance, persecution, torture" carried out with "the knowledge of senior leadership", including junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, Andrews said.

While stressing that such offences can only be determined in a court of law, he said there was clear evidence that the junta's crimes were "widespread" and part of a "coordinated campaign".

Thursday saw at least nine protesters killed in different parts of the country, including six in central Myanmar's Myaing township -- five of them shot in the head, according to a witness.

Rights group Amnesty International released a major report on the crisis on Thursday, accusing the junta of using battlefield weapons on unarmed protestors and carrying out premeditated killings.

As well as using tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to break up street protests, the military authorities have also carried out regular night raids, searching apartments and making arrests after dark.