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Asia Pacific

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi ‘looks healthy’, lawyer says, as U.S. orders non-essential staff to leave

5 minute read

Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in good health on Wednesday in her first video meeting with one of her lawyers since she was detained in a coup that has triggered weeks of violent turmoil in her country.

The Nobel laureate has been held in custody since the military seized power on Feb. 1 on several minor charges but could be facing a new one of treason, Khit Thit Media reported later on Wednesday.

Reuters could not confirm that a charge of treason was to be filed against her. The next hearing in her case is on Thursday.

Her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said he was not aware of a treason charge and said a document outlining the charge, published by Khit Thit, was not an official court document or report.

Earlier, Suu Kyi and another of her lawyers, Min Min Soe, held their first video conference since her arrest.

"Amay looks healthy, her complexion is good," Min Min Soe told Reuters by telephone, using an affectionate term meaning "mother" to refer to Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi had wanted to meet lawyers in person but ended up being allowed the video conference in the presence of police. Only the legal case was discussed, the lawyer said.

Suu Kyi, 75, faces charges that include illegally importing six handheld radios and breaching coronavirus protocols.

The military has also accused her of bribery in two recent news conferences. Her lawyers say the charges were trumped up and dismissed the accusation of bribery as a joke.

The military has justified the coup by saying that a November election won by Suu Kyi's party was fraudulent. The election commission said the vote was fair.

The reimposition of military rule after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy has triggered unrelenting opposition.

At least 521 civilians have been killed in protests, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Fighting has also flared between the army and ethnic minority insurgents in frontier regions. Refugees fleeing the turmoil are seeking safety in neighbouring countries.

POTS AND PANS PROTEST

Thousands of protesters were out again on Wednesday in different parts of the country.

An anti-coup protester walks past burning tires after activists launched a "garbage strike" against the military rule, in Yangon, Myanmar March 30, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

Residents in the main city of Yangon banged pots and pans and honked their car horns in a clamour of defiance as a news crew from CNN was shown around in what its correspondent said was a heavily armed convoy. read more

Media also reported a gun battle between security forces and civilians near the northwestern town of Kale. Voice of Myanmar said one villager was killed and several policemen wounded.

A branch official from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), U Kyaw Kyaw, died at an interrogation centre on Tuesday, two weeks after he was detained, a party colleague, Phyo Zewa Thaw, said on Facebook. He was the third NLD member to die in custody since the coup.

Police and a spokesman for the junta did not answer calls seeking comment.

The United States on Tuesday ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members due to concern over what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the "increasingly disturbing and even horrifying violence" against demonstrators.

AIR ATTACKS

City-based opponents of military rule have called for a united front with insurgent groups that have battled the government for decades in border regions.

Ousted members of parliament, mostly from Suu Kyi's party, on Wednesday vowed to set up a federal democracy in a bid to address a long-standing demand from ethnic minority groups for autonomy.

The military rejects such proposals and sees itself as the only institution capable of holding the country together.

Myanmar's oldest rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU) is bracing for what is says is an imminent government offensive on its areas along the eastern border with Thailand.

Military aircraft have been bombing KNU positions for the first time in more than 20 years and thousands of villagers have fled from their homes, many into Thailand. read more

Eleven people were killed on Tuesday in an air strike on a gold mine in KNU territory, the Irrawaddy news service reported.

A KNU official confirmed there had been more bombing but said details of casualties were still being confirmed.

Thailand has denied accusations from rights groups that it forced some refugees back to Myanmar and the U.N. refugee agency called on countries to offer refuge to all seeking safety.

"It is vital that anyone crossing the border, seeking asylum in another country, is able to access it," Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection said.

Fighting has also flared in the north between government forces and Kachin Independence Army insurgents.

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