UN Security Council calls for Suu Kyi’s release but does not condemn coup in Myanmar

The UN Security Council called for the release of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others imprisoned by the military and stressed the need to maintain democracy, but stopped short of condemning this week’s coup.

In the United States, the voice that weighed in to warn generals to change course grew as U.S. President Joe Biden said the military should resign and his security adviser said the administration was considering an executive order that could include sanctions.

Myanmar’s long and troubled transition to democracy was derailed on Monday when Army Commander Min Aung Hlaing seized power and said there were irregularities in an election in November that Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide. The Electoral Commission had said that the vote was fair.

The 15-member UN Security Council said in a statement unanimously on Thursday that it “emphasized the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, to renounce violence and to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”

The language of the statement was softer than the original draft from the United Kingdom and did not mention a coup – apparently to gain support from China and Russia, which have traditionally protected Myanmar from significant council action. China also has major economic interests in Myanmar and ties to the military.

China’s UN mission said that Beijing hoped that the key messages of the statement “could be followed by all sides and lead to a positive outcome” in Myanmar.

Reuters could not immediately reach the Myanmar government for comment.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen since she was arrested. Police have filed charges against her with illegal importation and use of six radios found in her home.

Biden said the United States was cooperating with allies and partners to address the generals’ takeover.

“There can be no doubt that a democratic force should never try to overthrow the will of the people or try to erase the result of a credible election,” Biden said.

Two U.S. senators, one Democrat, one Republican, said on Thursday they would pass a resolution calling on Myanmar’s military to withdraw from the coup or face consequences, particularly sanctions.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told a news agency that the Biden administration was looking at targeted sanctions against individuals and units controlled by the military.

But it is unclear how effective such a move would be. The generals who took power have few foreign interests that can be affected by economic sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund, which transferred $ 350 million to Myanmar just days before the coup to fight the coronavirus pandemic, said it would be “in the hands of the government and certainly the people of Myanmar that these funds are actually used accordingly.”

‘Light in the dark’

More than 140 people have been detained since the coup, including activists, lawmakers and officials from Suu Kyi’s government, the Myanmar Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said.

At least four people were arrested on Thursday, including three who took part in a demonstration on the street and a teenager who hit a pot in what has become a nightly protest against the coup.

>> Myanmar citizens oppose military coups with pots, pans and car horns

Win Htein, 79, a longtime supporter of Suu Kyi, told Reuters early Friday that he had been arrested and taken by police in a car from Yangon to the capital Naypyidaw.

Win Htein (L) and Aung San Suu Kyi, members of the Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD), will attend the funeral service of former party chairman Aung Shwe in Yangon on August 17, 2017. © AFP

In a country with a bloody history of demonstrations, there has been no mass outpouring of the opposition on the streets.

But doctors have helped spearhead a campaign of civil disobedience that has also been joined by other government employees, students and youth groups.

“Light shines in the dark,” said Min Ko Naing, a veteran of previous campaigns against military rule, in a call for action. “We must show how many people are against this unjust coup.”

In the face of the conflict, Myanmar’s junta has blocked Facebook and tried to shut down an important channel for opposition. The demand for VPNs increased by over 4000% when people tried to fight the ban.

The Ministry of Communications and Information said that Facebook would be blocked until February 7, as users “spread false news and misinformation and cause misunderstandings”.

Hlaing has moved quickly to consolidate his grip on power. He told a business group on Wednesday night that he could stay for six months after a one-year state of emergency expired to hold fair elections.

But unlike the generals, a dozen lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s party called for a symbolic parliamentary session on Thursday.

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.

>> Aung San Suu Kyi: the rise and fall of an icon made pariah on the world stage

She remains hugely popular at home despite the damage to her international reputation due to the situation of Rohingya Muslim refugees.

The NLD won about 80% of the parliamentary seats in the November election and believed in a pro-military party, according to the Electoral Commission.