Myanmar junta extends state of emergency on coup anniversary
Myanmar's already two-year-old state of emergency was extended by a further six months on Wednesday at the request of military junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, state media reported.
It coincided with the announcement of a fresh wave of sanctions by the US and its allies against the military regime.
The extension was granted by the National Defense and Security Council on the two-year anniversary of the coup that ousted the country's civilian government and led to the arrest of its figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi.
The "state of emergency will be extended for another six months starting from February 1," acting President Myint Swe was quoted as saying. "Sovereign power of the state has been transferred to commander in chief again," he added.
State media also reported Min Aung Hlaing as saying on Wednesday that "Our government will work to hold elections in every part of the country so as the people will not lose their democratic right."
The UN has warned that the promised elections will likely not be free and fair.
Junta slammed with new round of sanctions
Washington, along with Canada and the United Kingdom and Australia on Tuesday imposed sanctions on the Union Election Commission, mining enterprises, energy officials and others, as per a statement by the US Treasury Department.
The statement said this was the first time the US had targeted Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) officials, the managing director and deputy managing director. It is the country's single largest revenue-generating state-owned enterprise.
Mining Enterprise No 1 and Mining Enterprise No 2, both state-owned companies, as well as the Union Election Commission, were also hit with sanctions by Washington.
Canada targeted six individuals and prohibited the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel. Australia targeted members of the junta and a military-run company.
The UK designated two companies and two people for helping supply Myanmar's air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns.
The sanctions come as Myanmar's military has conducted aerial bombings and other attacks against pro-democracy forces.
UN warns planned elections likely a 'sham'
On the same day, the independent UN special investigator on Myanmar warned that the military junta plans to seek legitimacy by orchestrating a "sham" election this year.
"You cannot have a free and fair election when the opposition is arrested, detained, tortured, and executed, journalists are prohibited from doing their job, and it is a crime to criticize the military," Tom Andrews said at the UN.
Myanmar's junta last month outlined plans to hold an election later in the year.
To do that, it is supposed to lift the nationwide state of emergency six months beforehand. Observers had widely expected the military to announce it was preparing for the polls this week, with the state of emergency set to expire on Wednesday's anniversary.
But on Tuesday, the junta-stacked National Security and Defense Council said the state of the country "has not returned to normalcy yet."
The statement accused opposition political groups of trying to seize "state power by means of unrest and violence."
Membership rules set high bar to qualify
The junta had recently introduced new rules for parties contesting elections, which include a huge increase in their membership, a move that could sideline the military's opponents.
The rules favor the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which was defeated by now-jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the 2015 and 2020 elections. The party includes several former military generals.
The NLD and western nations have denounced the election and said they would not acknowledge the results.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters that the US has still not matched stronger sanctions imposed by the European Union.
"As a result, the measures taken so far have not imposed enough economic pain on the junta to compel it to change its conduct," he said.
Myanmar's top generals led a coup in February 2021. The country has since seen instability, with a crackdown on dissent.
According to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group that tracks killings and arrests in Myanmar, 2,940 civilians have been killed and 17,572 have been arrested by authorities since the army takeover.
NGO reports junta targeted religious sites
The London-based Myanmar Witness released a report on Wednesday saying troops of Myanmar's military junta occupied a Catholic Church in Moe Bye and fired shells at civilians seeking refuge at the Mwe Daw Pagoda.
"Single events such as this help us to understand the bigger picture of daily life in Myanmar," Dan Anlezark, Deputy Head of Investigations at Myanmar Witness, told DW.
Myanmar Witness reviewed videos and images captured during a flare-up of fighting in September last year, showing the Mary Mother of God Catholic Church seem to "have been the epicenter of the fighting."
The destruction in the town reached a climax on September 16, when the Mwedaw Pagoda, which was providing shelter to people fleeing the fighting, was hit by artillery.
Footage collected by Myanmar Witness showed the impact sights and large blood puddles, footwear, and clothing in the pagoda courtyard.
"The incidents in Moe Bye come at a time when we are seeing a dramatic rise in the use of deliberately set fires and airstrikes, which are becoming a part of daily life in Myanmar," Anlezark said.
"Two years after the military coup that overthrew democracy in villages and towns around the country, Myanmar Witness is regularly observing and investigating evidence of incidents and abuses of the type documented in this report," he added.
Louis Oelofse contributed to this report.
ab, tg/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)