Security forces in gas-rich Myanmar stepped up their bloody crackdown on pro-democracy supporters this past week, with more than 80 killed in just one day in the city of Bago near the commercial hub Yangon.
However, junta spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital Naypyidaw that the country was returning to normal and government ministries and banks would soon be functioning again.
The country has ground to a virtual standstill because of daily protests and widespread strikes against military rule.
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“The reason of reducing protests is due to the cooperation of people who want peace, which we value,” Zaw Min Tun said. “We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them.”
He also accused members of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party of arson and said the pro-democracy demonstrations were being financed by foreign money, without elaborating.
Reports that some members of the international community did not recognise the military government were fake news, he added.
“We are co-operating with foreign countries and working together with neighbouring countries.”
His statement came as South Korean company Posco reportedly denied allegations that its subsidiary’s giant producing Shwe gas development offshore Myanmar — in which state-owned Myanma Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE) is a partner — has links to the military junta.
MOGE has a 15% stake in the project in blocks A-1 and A-3, prompting some pro-democracy supporters to claim Shwe’s revenues are helping fund the heavy-handed military crackdown.
"We don't buy that argument, given the fact that our relationship with MOGE dates back far before the coup," Posco was quoted as saying by the Korea Times.
"It is illogical to say we are supporting the military junta because of the abrupt change in government."
Posco further claimed that Chinese or other foreign players might replace the company were it to pull out of Myanmar, saying that “will only benefit the junta while inflicting damage to Korea”.
The Shwe field generated revenues of $623 million last year, accounting for 86% of Posco International’s revenues in Myanmar.
The company’s operating profits from the project — which is undergoing expansion to bring on stream more gas resources — totalled $276 million in 2020.
News of Posco digging in its heels over its upstream operations in Myanmar — it will soon start a development drilling campaign as part of the Shwe phase two project — came just days after French major Total said it was pulling the plug on its planned Block A-6 offshore gas project.
Upstream has approached Posco International for independent comment.
Also, this week, Noble Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader before the 1 February coup, was on 12 April hit with yet another criminal charge when she appeared by video link before a judge in Naypyidaw.
She was accused of breaching a law intended to control the spread of the coronavirus, the second such charge against her under the same law.
She is already facing other charges including the illegal import of walkie-talkies, inciting public unrest and contravening the official secrets act.
The junta has also accused her of corruption, presenting on state television what it said was evidence that she received bribes.
Also appearing in court on the same day via video link to face charges were Myanmar’s democratically elected President Win Myint and the former mayor of Naypyidaw, Myo Aung.
More than 700 civilians have been killed since the coup of 1 February, according to the non-governmental organisation Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which said more than 3000 people have been detained.