UN Security Council condemns Myanmar junta's use of violence against peaceful protesters

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The UN Security Council on Thursday “strongly condemned” the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Myanmar, in a unanimous statement watered down by China after two days of tough negotiations.

“Members of the Security Council expressed deep concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation and strongly condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including women and children,” read the statement, initiated by former colonial power Britain.

In earlier versions of the text, obtained by AFP, Western nations wanted to include a “readiness to consider further steps”—a reference to the possibility of international sanctions.

But China, considered Myanmar’s most important ally, blocked the language, diplomats said.

Beijing also insisted on softening a reference to the “killing” of hundreds of civilians and changing it to civilian “deaths”.

Russia, diplomats said, also blocked the text several times because Moscow wanted a sentence condemning the death of security forces members in demonstrations.

Still, despite the lengthy negotiations, getting the Security Council to speak with one voice sent a “very important signal,” one ambassador said on condition of anonymity.

Since the February 1 coup, the Security Council has issued three unanimous statements on Myanmar.

But Beijing, which has never recognized the existence of a coup, reduced the scope of the negotiated texts each time.

Moreover, the Security Council’s positions have had little effect on the military so far.

On Wednesday, the UN’s special envoy on Myanmar called for strong actions against the junta and warned of a possible “bloodbath” and the risk of civil war.

New charges against Suu Kyi

The Security Council statement came as a serious new charge was introduced against Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi has been accused of breaking a colonial-era official secrets law, her lawyer said, an offense punishable by 14 years in prison.

Earlier on Thursday, Kyi appeared by video link in court in the capital Naypyidaw, where she faces a raft of charges that could see her barred from political office.

The hearing dealt with administrative aspects of the case including the formal appointment of eight defence lawyers.

Lawyer Min Min Soe said Suu Kyi looked in good health during the hearing, but was unable to tell whether the ousted leader, the figurehead of Myanmar's decades-long fight for democracy, was aware of the situation in her country.

‘Wanton killing’

International outrage continues to mount over the February 1 coup and the military’s subsequent clampdown on protesters that has left at least 535 people dead.

London announced sanctions Thursday morning on the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a conglomerate controlled by the military that Washington has already blacklisted.

In addition to sanctions, London will also stump up $700,000 towards UN Security Council efforts to document serious human rights violations in Myanmar.

“Two months on from the start of the coup, the Myanmar military has sunk to a new low with the wanton killing of innocent people, including children,” British foreign minister Dominic Raab said in a statement.

International powers have sought to pile pressure on the military by hitting its sprawling business interests, which include the lucrative jade and ruby trade.

In another blow to the junta’s business interests, two military-owned supermarkets in Yangon were set ablaze overnight, and two more international companies cut ties because of the crisis.

Protests – and the security forces’ bloody response – continue, and in Monywa in central Myanmar on Thursday a 31-year-old protester was shot dead, while 10 others were wounded, a rescue worker told AFP.

One person was also killed, and six others injured, in Mandalay, a rescue worker and a doctor said.

And the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said security forces had been targeting first responders, with Asia-Pacific director Alexander Matheou labelling the incidents as “unacceptable”.

A group of ousted MPs from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), who have been working underground against the junta, have announced plans for “a new civilian government” in the first week of April.

They said Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 constitution was “cancelled”, and on Thursday a group of protesters burned a pile of copies in the street in Yangon.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)