Global pressure against Myanmar’s generals was swelling Friday after Britain and Canada imposed targeted sanctions, though the military showed no sign of deviating from its bid to crush opposition to their coup.
Much of the country has been in open revolt since troops deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February with disparate strands of Myanmar society uniting to protest against a return to military rule.
Security forces have steadily stepped up the show — and use — of force, by deploying troops against peaceful protesters, and firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
Overnight former colonial power Britain announced sanctions against three generals for “serious human rights violations” over their roles in the junta’s security forces.
Freezing their assets and imposing travel bans, the UK also said it was beginning a review to stop British businesses working with the military.
Canada sanctioned nine Myanmar military officials and accused the junta of engaging “in a systemic campaign of repressions through coercive legislative measures and use of force”.
“Canada stands with the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy and human rights,” said foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau.
These actions come after US President Joe Biden last week announced Washington would cut off the generals’ access to $1 billion in funds in the US.
While welcoming the sanctions, some rights groups and activists say the moves need to go further to hit the military’s businesses in the lucrative gems, beer, and banking sectors.
“They fall woefully short of the strong response that is needed to hold the military to account and undermine its economic power,” said Paul Donowitz, Myanmar Campaign Leader from UK-based Global Witness.
“We will be waiting for the EU sanctions announcement” on Monday, said Thinzar Shunlei Yi, one of the main activists who kicked off an online “Civil Disobedience Movement” campaign which has spilled onto the streets.
“We urge other nations to have a coordinated and united response against Military Coup in Myanmar.”
Internet shutdowns and night arrests
The country endured its fifth consecutive night of “curfew-style shutdowns”, according to monitoring group NetBlocks, reporting that the internet returned around 9 am local time.
By then hundreds were already amassing at two key junctions in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, carrying posters of Suu Kyi that said “Free our leader”
In remote Sagaing region, columns of protesters marched through Monywa, waving a three-finger salute — a “Hunger Games”-style symbol of resistance borrowed from Thailand’s pro-democracy movement.
The junta has continued apace with detentions of Suu Kyi’s political allies as well as civil servants taking part in the movement.
So far, more than 520 people have been arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, which confirmed that 12 foreign ministry officials were detained.
The partner of one told AFP that he got a text message from her before dawn saying the police were coming, and said he still has not heard from her.
Thursday also saw police deploy water cannon in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital, in an attempt to disperse protesters.
“The police decided to park their trucks and started firing the water. They sprayed water into the houses and they also seized people’s motorcycles,” a protester told AFP.
The junta has justified its power seizure by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
The Nobel laureate — who has not been seen since she was detained in dawn raids — has been hit with an obscure charge for possessing unregistered walkie-talkies, and for flouting coronavirus restrictions during campaign events.
Her hearing is expected on 1 March.