Britain has condemned “bullying” by the Myanmar military government after the country’s ambassador to London was removed in an extraordinary diplomatic coup after having called for the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Diplomats loyal to the Myanmar military authorities seized control of the embassy on Wednesday, leaving Ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn locked out in the street.
The ambassador said the defence attache had taken over the mission in “a kind of coup”, two months after the military seized power in Myanmar and urged the international community to help his country.
“Please assist our country and help our country as without international assistance we will not be able to get out of this mess,” he told reporters outside the embassy.
Daily protests demanding a return of democracy have rocked the country and brought a brutal response from the armed forces, with an estimated 600 civilians killed according to a local monitoring group.
Radio Free Asia reported on Friday that at least 11 more protesters were killed by security forces on Thursday. There have also been reports of people taken from their homes by security forces without arrest warrants.
Promising to deprive the military government of a key source of income, the United States on Thursday slapped sanctions on Myanmar’s state gem company, Myanmar Gems Enterprise.
The US is committed to “denying the Burmese military sources of funding, including from key state-owned enterprises throughout Burma,” said Andrea Gacki, the director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, using Myanmar’s former name.
The department said it would block all assets and ban any transactions with the company.
The coup has prompted several high-profile diplomatic defections, including the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun.
The military government recalled Kyaw Zwar Minn last month after he issued a statement urging them to release Aung San Suu Kyi and deposed civilian President Win Myint.
Video shows Myanmar security forces chasing and shooting at an anti-coup protester. Sources told RFA that at least 11 protesters were killed nationwide on Thursday as the military continues its brutal crackdown. pic.twitter.com/rpMkntwtsT
— Radio Free Asia (@RadioFreeAsia) April 8, 2021
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab posted on social media his support for the ambassador, who spent the night in his car outside the embassy.
“We condemn the bullying actions of the Myanmar military regime in London yesterday, and I pay tribute to Kyaw Zwar Minn for his courage,” Raab wrote.
“The UK continues to call for an end to the coup and the appalling violence and a swift restoration of democracy.”
UK sources said the Myanmar authorities had given official notice of Kyaw Zwar Minn’s termination as ambassador and in line with diplomatic policy the government had no choice but to accept it.
The defence attache has installed Deputy Ambassador Chit Win as the charge d’affaires.
Myanmar’s military spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had been in touch with their UK counterparts in London over the incident.
“We have sent an official appointment letter already for Chit Win as the chief of mission there. They have accepted,” he told the AFP news agency, adding the ambassador was required to return home.
Myanmar’s security forces have struggled to quell protests and a civil disobedience movement aimed at overturning the February 1 military coup.
They have used rubber-coated bullets and live rounds to break up rallies and used night raids to arrest suspected dissidents.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says at least 614 civilians have been killed and nearly 2,900 detained, while 500 have been issued arrest warrants.
Six of the 11 reported deaths on Thursday were in Taze in the northwestern Sagaing region after residents tried to block the army from reaching the town.
“Our people used (homemade) guns and attacked them. But they used real bullets and shot us,” one witness told AFP.
As part of its efforts to suppress the movement, the military government has issued a wanted notice for about 140 celebrities accused of fanning the protests by lending their support.
On Thursday, the military arrested leading actor, model and heart-throb Paing Takhon in a dawn raid at his mother’s home in Yangon.
The 24-year-old – a star in Myanmar and neighbouring Thailand — has been active in the protest movement both in person at rallies and through his huge social media following.
In February, he posted pictures of himself in a white tracksuit with a megaphone, hard hat and a white fluffy dog strapped to his chest at a protest.
International powers have voiced anger and dismay at the military government’s brutal approach, but the UN Security Council has stopped short of considering sanctions, with China and Russia against the move.
The military has defended seizing power, pointing to allegations of voting fraud in the November election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won comfortably and says it is responding proportionately to the demonstrations.
Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing accused the protesters of wanting to “destroy the country” and said only 248 protesters had been killed, along with 16 police officers.