Myanmar’s military captured power on Monday in a coup against Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s newly elected administration, who was arrested in early morning raids along with other representatives of her National League for Democracy (NLD) faction.
According to a statement on a military-owned television station, the army said it had carried out the detentions in reaction to ‘poll fraud,’ handing power to military leader Min Aung Hlaing and enforcing a state of emergency for one year. An army spokesperson did not respond to phone calls requesting further comment.
Phone lines to the capital Naypyitaw and Yangon’s main commercial centre were not available, and state television went off air hours before parliament was due to sit for the first time since the landslide election triumph of the NLD in November, seen as a vote on the fledgling democratic government of Suu Kyi.
Soldiers took up posts at Yangon city hall and mobile internet data and telecommunications networks were interrupted in the NLD stronghold, residents said. Internet access has also declined significantly, NetBlocks monitoring service said
In the early hours of the morning, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by telephone, Suu Kyi, Myanmar President Win Myint and other NLD leaders were “taken,”
“He said, adding that he expected to be arrested himself, “I want to tell our people not to react rashly and I want them to behave according to the rules. Subsequently, Reuters did not reach him.
The arrests came after days of escalating conflict between the civilian government and the military that, in the wake of the referendum, stirred concerns of a coup.
The White House reported that President Joe Biden had been briefed on Suu Kyi’s detention.
The Australian government said it was “deeply concerned about reports that the Myanmar military is again seeking to seize Myanmar’s control” and called for the immediate release of the leaders who were arbitrarily detained.
Japan said it was monitoring the situation and had no intentions to repatriate Myanmar’s Japanese citizens at present.
After a 2015 election victory that followed decades of house arrest in a battle for independence with the Myanmar junta that made her into a foreign star, Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 75, came to power.
After hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled army operations to Myanmar’s western Rakhine state in 2017, her international status was weakened, but she remains hugely famous at home.
Last week, political tensions soared when a military spokesperson refused to rule out a coup before the new parliament assembled on Monday, and military leader Min Aung Hlaing raised the possibility of the constitution being revoked.
But on the weekend, the military seemed to backtrack, releasing a social media post on Sunday saying it would “do everything possible to adhere to the democratic standards of free and fair elections.”
Last week, tanks were stationed in some streets and pro-military protests took place in some cities ahead of the first parliamentary meeting.
The Electoral Commission of Myanmar has dismissed the military’s accusations of voter fraud.
After decades of military rule, the constitution released in 2008 reserves 25 per cent of parliamentary seats for the military and power of three main ministries in Suu Kyi’s government.
Daniel Russel, President Barack Obama’s top US East Asia envoy, who fostered strong relations with Suu Kyi, said another military takeover in Myanmar would be a serious blow to the region’s democracy.
If real, not only for democracy in Myanmar, but for US interests, this is a big setback. It is yet another reminder that anti-democratic powers have been emboldened by the pervasive lack of reliable and steady US participation in the region, he said.
The condition was a problem for the current US government, said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Washington Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
The US joined other nations as recently as Friday in encouraging the military not to move ahead with its coup attempts. China is going to stand by Myanmar as it did when the Rohingya were kicked out by the military,” he said.
Human Rights Watch’s Asian advocacy officer, John Sifton, said the Myanmar military has never agreed to civilian rule and called on the United States and other nations to implement “strict and targeted economic sanctions” on the military leadership and its economic interests.