EU sanctions Myanmar's Junta chief as civil disobedience and protests continue

Global outrage over Myanmar's coup has failed to put an end to the rising death toll

Firecrackers explode as protestors take cover behind a barricade during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar March 21, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

The EU placed Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist on Monday over a coup and crackdown on demonstrators, the bloc's official journal said, as protests and civil disobedience continued.

"Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has been directly involved in and responsible for decision making concerning state functions and is therefore responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar," the listing said.

It said that the army chief was "directly responsible" for a brutal crackdown by the authorities in the wake of the February 1 seizure of power.

On Monday, protesters marched against the military junta at a predawn rally in Myanmar's second largest city, a day after 8 demonstrators were killed.

Myanmar has been convulsed by demonstrations against a coup that dismissed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's government last month, with the junta ordering a brutal crackdown in response.

More than 2,600 people have been arrested and 250 killed during the crackdown, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group, which warns fatalities could be higher.

Scores of people, including teachers, marched the streets of Mandalay, some carrying placards calling for UN intervention in the crisis.

Early morning protests were also held in parts of Yangon, the commercial capital.

Mandalay, the country's cultural cenre, has been hit by some of the worst violence of the crackdown and recorded eight more deaths on Sunday, a medical source told AFP. Fiftypeople had been injured.

Meanwhile, the BBC on Monday said that a journalist from its Burmese-language service was released by authorities.

The journalist, Aung Thura, was detained on March 19 by men who appeared to be plainclothes security agents while he was reporting outside a court in the capital of Naypyitaw.

Arrests of media workers have been part of the junta's intensifying efforts to choke off information about resistance to the February 1 coup.

About 40 journalists have been arrested since the coup, half of whom are still in detention – including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press – according to the Myanmar-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Monks held an evening candlelight ceremony, while in one neighbourhood persistent gunfire was reported until about 11pm local time.

One man was also killed during daytime clashes with security forces in the central city of Monywa on Sunday.

The Australian and Canadian governments have confirmed they are providing consular assistance to two business consultants detained in Myanmar.

It is understood that Matthew O'Kane and Christa Avery, a dual Canadian-Australian citizen, are under house arrest after trying to leave the country on a relief flight on Friday.

The couple run a consultancy business in Yangon.

The Canadian and Australian foreign ministries have refused to comment further on the case.

International condemnation by the US, Brussels and the United Nations has so far failed to halt the bloodshed.

The US expanded its blacklist against the Myanmar junta on Monday after sanctioning Min Aung Hlaing shortly after the coup in February.

The Biden administration’s latest sanctions were placed on police chief Than Hlaing, special operations commander Lit Gen Aung Soe, as well as the 33rd and 77th light infantry divisions of the army.

“Today’s actions send a strong signal that we will follow through on our pledges to continue to take action against coup leaders and those who perpetrate violence,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“The United States continues to call on the military regime to release all those unjustly detained; stop its attacks on civil society members, journalists and labor unionists; halt the brutal killings by its security forces; and return power to the democratically elected government.”

In a new bid to increase diplomatic pressure on the generals, EU foreign ministers are expected to approve sanctions against 11 junta officials on Monday.

Politicians from the Association of South-Eeast Asian Nations urged regional leaders to meet and devise a “strong and decisive response” to increased violence against protesters by Myanmar’s military.

The politicians urged the 10-nation bloc to send a delegation alongside the UN special envoy to Myanmar to help negotiate a "democratic and human rights-based solution".

Asean has a policy of non-interference, but some regional leaders have rebuked the violence and urged restraint in Myanmar.

"The Myanmar army is killing people every day. Statements are welcome but are useless against the military's bullets," said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian politician who heads the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights group.

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