Australia is suspending its defence cooperation with Myanmar’s military in the wake of the February 1 coup and deadly violence against protesters that has sparked global condmenation.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement last night that Australia had been weighing up its diplomatic response as calls for stronger sanctions against Myanmar grow in the face of escalating violence against protesters.
Ms Payne said Australia had raised “our grave concerns about the military coup in Myanmar and the escalating violence and rising death toll” and she condemned the lethal force used “against civilians exercising their univesral rights”.
“Australia has had a limited bilateral Defence Cooperation Program with Myanmar’s military, restricted to non-combat areas such as English language training. This program will be suspended,” Ms Payne said.
“Australia’s development program is also being re-directed to the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities. We will prioritise the most pressing humanitarian and emerging needs and seek to ensure our humanitarian engagement is with and through non-government organisations, not with government or government-related entities, as is currently the case in some parts of the program.”
Ms Payne said the decision was after “extensive consultations with our international partners particularly our ASEAN neighbours, Japan and India”.
Ms Payne said Australia would continue to review existing sanctions that include an arms embargo.
“We call on the Myanmar regime to engage in dialogue. Australia will continue to play a constructive role, including in consultation with international partners, particularly ASEAN, in support of the Myanmar people.”
Global condemnation grows
There is growing pressure for countries to impose more sanctions against the junta, despite the struggle over how to best sway military leaders inured to global condemnation.
The challenge is made doubly difficult by fears of harming ordinary citizens who were already suffering from an economic slump worsened by the pandemic but are braving risks of arrest and injury to voice outrage over the military takeover. Still, activists and experts say there are ways to ramp up pressure on the regime, especially by cutting off sources of funding and access to the tools of repression.
The UN special envoy on Friday urged the Security Council to act to quell junta violence that this week killed about 50 demonstrators and injured scores more.
“There is an urgency for collective action,” Christine Schraner Burgener told the meeting. “How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?”
Coordinated UN action is difficult, however, since permanent Security Council members China and Russia would almost certainly veto it. Myanmar’s neighbours, its biggest trading partners and sources of investment, are likewise reluctant to resort to sanctions.
Some piecemeal actions have already been taken. The US, Britain and Canada have tightened various restrictions on Myanmar’s army, their family members and other top leaders of the junta. The US blocked an attempt by the military to access more than $1 billion in Myanmar central bank funds being held in the US, the State Department confirmed Friday.
But most economic interests of the military remain “largely unchallenged,” Thomas Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in Myanmar, said in a report issued last week. Some governments have halted aid and the World Bank said it suspended funding and was reviewing its programs.
It’s unclear whether the sanctions imposed so far, although symbolically important, will have much impact. Schraner Burgener told UN correspondents that the army shrugged off a warning of possible “huge strong measures” against the coup with the reply that, “We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past.”
Andrews and other experts and human rights activists are calling for a ban on dealings with the many Myanmar companies associated with the military and an embargo on arms and technology, products and services that can be used by the authorities for surveillance and violence.
— Reported with Associated Press