Myanmar diplomat in Germany joins growing wave of government defections

At least 20 diplomats in Myanmar's embassies around the world have turned against the junta

epa09123661 Demonstrators march during an anti-military coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, 09 April 2021. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 570 people have been killed by Myanmar armed forces since the military seized power on 01 February 2021 while protests continue despite the intensifying crackdown on demonstrators.  EPA/STRINGER
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Up until recently, one of Chaw Kalyar's tasks at the Myanmar embassy in Berlin consisted of providing assistance to fellow nationals stripped of their citizenship by their country's former military rulers.

But today, the diplomat finds herself facing the same predicament.

Along with two other colleagues, she has joined a civil disobedience movement that has seen Myanmar diplomats in several countries stand against the military junta that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power on February 1.

At least 614 civilians have been killed in the military's crackdown on protests and nearly 3,000 arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.

"At the beginning of February, I despaired of the coup, whereas since 2015 Myanmar was on the right track," said Ms Kalyar. "History was repeating itself.

"I decided to do something," added the 49-year-old diplomat. "We have to take part in that movement to overtake the coup."

Ms Kalyar, who as a high school student in 1988 took part in mass protests against the then military regime, recalled having many friends killed at that time.

"I kept strong feelings inside me throughout my life," she said.

Ms Kalyar has the rank of third secretary at the embassy in Berlin, but said she was not about to sit by and watch as the latest political crisis unfolded.

"As the only embassy with military attachés in Europe, we felt their influence growing: now they come to the embassy more frequently and provide propaganda notes on the situation in Myanmar," she said.

She said she was jolted into action after Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's top envoy at the United Nations, spoke out against the coup-makers in late February.

His voice quavering, Kyaw Moe Tun had urged the military to restore civilian rule in a speech before the UN General Assembly. He was immediately fired by Myanmar's military rulers and accused of high treason.

"I was very touched (by) his move," Ms Kalyar said. "He is a leader for us and we can do as well."

She said on March 4, she and two other diplomats at the seven-strong embassy joined the disobedience movement and posted on Facebook a message of support to the unarmed protesters back home.

Less than a week later, she said, the trio received letters informing them they had been fired and their passports withdrawn.

"When we posted our announcement on Facebook, we knew what the consequences would be," Ms Kalyar said.

"We cannot go back home or go out of Germany because they cancelled our passports," she added. "We have to stay here but it's alright as compared to people in Myanmar whose lives are at stake every moment."

Germany, which has denounced the coup, is currently examining the case of the diplomats.

"The federal government deems that the diplomatic status of employees at the embassy has not yet expired," a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.

Ms Kalyar said about 20 Myanmar diplomats worldwide, including in Paris, Geneva and Washington, have also joined the civil disobedience movement.

She denounced pro-junta diplomats in Britain who ousted Myanmar's ambassador on Tuesday, barring him from entering the embassy in London and forcing him to sleep in his car overnight.

Ms Kalyar said she doubts the same scenario could play out at the embassy in Berlin, one of the most important in Europe, given how close the ambassador there is to the military.