Myanmar arrest of ex-U.Okay. ambassador is ‘hostage diplomacy,’ activists say



The Myanmar navy’s current arrest of a former U.Okay. ambassador is an instance of “hostage diplomacy,” activists and opposition politicians say. The detention of the ex-diplomat got here as Britain moved to additional isolate the Southeast Asian regime.

Vicky Bowman, who served as British ambassador to Myanmar from 2002 to 2006, was arrested Wednesday night at her Yangon condominium alongside along with her husband, Htein Lin, a famend Burmese artist. They be a part of the 15,000-plus folks arrested by the navy junta because it seized energy in a coup final February, stated the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a nonprofit that tracks folks persecuted by the regime. The figures embody not less than three different foreigners.

Activists say the detention of Bowman, who’s being charged for staying at a special handle than the residence that she formally registered, displays the rising impunity of the navy. The junta has brutally crushed opposition over the previous 12 months and defied worldwide appeals final month to execute 4 pro-democracy leaders. Many additionally see the arrest as an try and stress international governments in opposition to undermining the regime, together with with stronger sanctions.

Other foreigners identified to be in detention embody Sean Turnell, an Australian economist and longtime adviser to Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested days after the 2021 coup, and Toru Kubota, a documentary filmmaker from Japan, who was taken into custody earlier this month whereas masking a protest in Yangon.

Danny Fenster, an American journalist who labored in Myanmar, spent greater than 5 months in jail final 12 months earlier than being launched on a pardon. The U.S. Embassy in Yangon stated final month that one other American is being “wrongfully detained” within the nation.

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“They’re trying to create a hostage situation, a kind of hostage diplomacy,” stated Moe Zaw Oo, deputy international minister for the National Unity Government (NUG) — an administration-in-exile that has important fashionable assist. He stated the junta is borrowing from the playbook of different authoritarian regimes, together with Russia, which continues to carry custody of Americans, together with WNBA participant Brittney Griner, that the U.S. State Department considers to be wrongfully detained.

“The ransom in this case is some sort of political benefit,” Moe Zaw Oo added about Bowman’s arrest.

Myanmar’s navy, additionally identified the Tatmadaw, has been brutal in its current crackdown of opposition forces. It has employed methods honed over a long time of suppressing ethnic minorities, from the razing of villages to the usage of human shields. Faced with a number of insurgencies and the specter of being additional remoted from the worldwide group, the junta is searching for out new strategies of intimidation, observers say.

Military leaders are “in a fight for their survival,” stated Mark Farmaner, director of pro-democracy group Burma Campaign UK. “They’re not playing the same international diplomatic games they used to play when they were in charge before.”

Zachary Abuza, a professor on the National War College in Washington who research Southeast Asian safety points, stated the arrests will most likely immediate international governments to prioritize the secure launch of their residents. That may weaken — or delay — a extra “principled response” to the junta, he stated.

Australia has shied away from imposing severe sanctions on Myanmar because the coup, lagging behind different Western powers, he famous. Foreign Minister Penny Wong stated in June that Australia is weighing new sanctions however emphasised that securing the discharge of Turnell is the nation’s “first priority.”

Days earlier than Bowman was arrested, Britain introduced that it might be becoming a member of different international locations in an International Court of Justice case alleging that the Myanmar navy carried out genocide in opposition to the Rohingya Muslim minority. London additionally stated it might impose new sanctions, together with in opposition to Sky One Construction Company, which has hyperlinks with the son of the junta’s chief, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

There’s no speedy proof that the arrest and the sanctions had been associated, however activists say the message despatched to international governments is evident.

“It’s a challenge not only to the Burmese people but to the world,” stated a Myanmar journalist within the United Kingdom, who’s longtime buddies with Bowman and Htein Lin. “The message is: No one is safe.”

The journalist, who spoke on the situation of anonymity for safety causes, stated that the arrest of Bowman, 56, and Htein Lin, 55, got here as a shock to their buddies.

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The couple was well-known in lots of circles — Bowman speaks fluent Burmese and has lived on and off within the nation for greater than 30 years; Htein Lin had been a pupil activist within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties — and their dramatic love story drew international attention.

But lately, they’d led a comparatively “low-profile” life, stated the journalist. Bowman was most lately the director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, a Yangon-based initiative, and was not an outspoken critic of the junta.

In an interview with local news outlet Frontier Myanmar earlier this 12 months, Bowman suggested companies in opposition to cozying as much as the navy. “Our advice is you need to continue to follow the law,” she stated. “However, we do not encourage companies to stick their head up above the parapet and have a ceremonial, ribbon-cutting relationship with the government.”

While she was additionally not a supporter of the regime, Bowman had contacts throughout the navy, stated two of her buddies. This gave her some confidence that she may dwell safely within the nation along with her husband and her 14-year-old daughter, even after the coup.

When the pandemic hit, Bowman and her household moved out of Yangon to a house that Htein Lin had in Kalaw, a hilltop city in central Myanmar. A junta spokesperson stated Thursday that Bowman was being charged for residing at an handle that she hadn’t registered. Her husband, the official stated, was charged “because he knew and encouraged his wife to move to his home address, contrary to the existing law.”

Tan reported from Singapore. Cabato reported from Manila.


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