(Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council called for the release of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained by the military and voiced concern over the state of emergency, but stopped short of condemning this week’s coup.
FILE PHOTO: Protesters from Myanmar residing in Japan hold a portrait of leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a rally against Myanmar’s military after it seized power from a democratically elected civilian government and arrested Suu Kyi, at United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is meanwhile considering an executive order in response to the coup that could include some sanctions, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Myanmar’s long and troubled transition to democracy was derailed on Monday when army commander Min Aung Hlaing took power, alleging irregularities in an election last November that Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council said in a statement agreed by consensus on Thursday that they “stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
Language in the statement was softer than that originally drafted by Britain and made no mention of a coup – apparently to win support from China and Russia, which have traditionally shielded Myanmar from significant council action. China also has large economic interests in Myanmar.
A spokesperson for China’s U.N. mission said Beijing hoped the key messages in the statement “could be heeded by all sides and lead to a positive outcome” in its neighbour.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach the Myanmar government for comment.
Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen since her arrest. Police have filed charges against her of illegally importing and using six walkie-talkie radios found at her home and she has been detained until Feb. 15.
Some 147 people have been detained since the coup, including activists, lawmakers and officials from Suu Kyi’s government, Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said.
At least four people were arrested on Thursday, including three who took part in a street demonstration and a teenager who was banging a pot in part of what have become nightly protests against the coup.
In a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on demonstrations, there has been no mass outpouring of opposition on the streets.
But doctors have helped spearhead a campaign of civil disobedience that has also been joined by some other government employees, students and youth groups.
“Lights are shining in the dark,” said Min Ko Naing, a veteran of past campaigns against military rule, in a call to action. “We need to show how many people are against this unfair coup.”
In the face of the dissent, Myanmar’s junta blocked Facebook on Thursday, trying to shut off an important channel for opposition. Demand for VPNs surged over 4,000% as people sought to defeat the ban.
The Ministry of Communications and Information said Facebook would be blocked until Feb. 7, because users were “spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding”.
Hlaing has moved quickly to consolidate his grip on power. He told a business group on Wednesday night he could remain in charge for six months after a one-year state of emergency ends in order to hold fair elections.
But in a show of defiance to the generals, about a dozen lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s party convened a symbolic parliamentary session on Thursday.
Among the steps the Biden administration is looking at are targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by the military, national security adviser Sullivan told a news briefing.
The daughter of the former British colony’s independence hero Aung San and the longtime leader of its democracy movement, Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
She remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees.
The NLD won about 80% of the parliament seats in the November election and trounced a pro-military party, according to the election commission. The army refused to accept the result, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.
Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates; editing by Lincoln Feast, Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie