LONDON – Britain confirmed on Thursday (April 8) that it could no longer recognise Myanmar’s ambassador in London after the ruling junta issued formal notification that he had been withdrawn for supporting the deposed government.
UK sources said the government, in line with diplomatic policy, had to accede to the junta’s decision regarding Mr Kyaw Zwar Minn after he was locked out of the embassy on Wednesday.
Diplomats loyal to the Myanmar military authorities appeared to have seized control of the embassy, leaving the ambassador out in the street and forcing him to sleep in his car overnight as anti-junta protesters demonstrated.
The ousted envoy said his defence attache, Mr Chit Win, had taken over the mission in “a kind of coup”, two months after the military seized power in Myanmar.
In a statement read out Thursday on behalf of the ambassador by Mr Min Hein, a member of the Myanmar community in London, he said they had been waiting for a formal response from the UK government.
“We have also learned that Chit Win’s team are threatening the embassy staff with severe punishment if those staff do not continue to work for the military junta,” Mr Min Hein added.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had earlier on Thursday condemned “bullying” by Myanmar’s junta and reiterated calls for the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“We condemn the bullying actions of the Myanmar military regime in London yesterday, and I pay tribute to Kyaw Zwar Minn for his courage,” Mr Raab said on Twitter.
“The UK continues to call for an end to the coup and the appalling violence, and a swift restoration of democracy.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Kyaw Zwar Minn had urged the British government not to recognise the junta’s envoy and to send them back to Myanmar.
“The ambassador has been recalled by the Myanmar military regime – since then he has stopped following instructions from the Myanmar foreign ministry,” Ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn said through a spokesman.
“We believe the UK government would not back those who are working for the military junta and we also would like to urge the UK government to send them back,” the ambassador said through his spokesman who read out his statement in English.
In a letter to the British foreign ministry from the Myanmar embassy, seen by Reuters, those in control of the embassy said that deputy ambassador Chit Win had taken over as charge d’affairs as of April 7.
Mr Kyaw Zwar Minn was recalled on March 9, the letter said.
The ex-ambassador had said through his spokesman that “he had full faith that the UK government will continue to demonstrate their rejection of the unlawful military regime”.
The spokesman said that the ambassador “is trying to walk in the middle ground but there is no doubt which is the right side: the military council has killed nearly 600 people including 48 children”.
Mr Kyaw Zwar Minn said: “We call on the UK government specifically to refuse to work with the charge d’affairs Chit Win that the military council have nominated or any other ambassador that they might try to nominate in future.”
The military seized power in Myanmar in a coup in February and has cracked down on pro-democracy protesters.
Mr Kyaw Zwar Minn has broken ranks with the ruling junta in recent weeks, calling for the release of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted president Win Myint, drawing praise for his “courage” from Mr Raab.
Police officers were standing guard outside the embassy, where protesters against the military junta had gathered.
“We are aware of a protest outside the Myanmar embassy in Mayfair, London. Public order officers are in attendance. There have (been) no arrests,” police said in a statement.
Britain has sanctioned members of Myanmar’s military and some of its business interests in the wake of the coup, and has demanded the restoration of democracy.
British officials were talking to representatives from both sides and the police, with the aim of resolving the stand-off at the embassy quickly and calmly.
“We are seeking further information following an incident at Myanmar’s embassy in London,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said in a statement.
Anti-coup demonstrators in Myanmar fought back with hunting rifles and firebombs against a crackdown by security forces in a town in the north-west, but at least 11 of the protesters were killed, domestic media reported on Thursday.
Initially, six truckloads of troops were deployed to quell the protesters in the town of Taze, the Myanmar Now and Irrawaddy news outlets said. When the protesters fought back with guns, knives and firebombs, five more truckloads of troop reinforcements were brought in.
Fighting continued into Thursday morning and at least 11 protesters were killed and about 20 wounded, the media said.
There was no word of any casualties among the soldiers.
That would take the toll of civilians killed by security forces to over 600 since the junta seized power on Feb 1, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. It had a toll of 598 dead as of Wednesday evening.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.