Australia considers imposing sanctions over ‘highly volatile’ Myanmar coup

The Australian government has confirmed it is giving serious consideration to expanding sanctions against the military officials behind Myanmar’s violent coup.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has also warned there is no clear path on how nations in the region can respond to the military crackdown amid escalating violence against peaceful protesters.

Senator Payne fronted a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday where she was grilled about the unfolding coup – described as “highly volatile” by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials.

She said Australia continues to consider imposing sanctions action against those involved in the military takeover.

“We have five people listed currently under the Myanmar autonomous sanctions regime – and I am continuing to take advice on that and reviewing that with colleagues,” she told the estimates hearing.

However, Senator Payne would provide no time frame on when this review would be completed.

“These issues are very dynamic and the matters that we are dealing with,” she said.

“But it is a very important matter – I take it seriously.” 

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union have already announced sanctions against the coup leaders. 

The Australian government has faced sustained pressure to follow its international allies. 

Human Rights Watch Australian director Elaine Pearson said the Australian government “absolutely” needed to implement targeted sanctions. 

“It’s time Australia stopped dragging its feet and implement targeted sanctions against the coup leaders but also the military-owned businesses and conglomerates,” she told SBS News. 

Myanmar security forces have used increasingly heavy-handed tactics against pro-democracy demonstrators since detaining democratically-elected Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February. 

Daily demonstrations have erupted against the coup.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Ridwaan Jadwat described the situation as “highly volatile” in the face of the violent military response.  

He said at least 250 people have been killed since the coup and more than 2,300 arrested in the crackdown.

Senator Payne said the Association of South East Asian Nations had been working to “identify possible paths forward” in relation to resolving the coup. 

However, at this time any resolution remains unclear.

“There is not a clear path in relation to how to work with partners to address the impacts of the coup and how to engage with the leaders of the regime if and how that is appropriate – and what form that would take,” she said.

In response to the coup, Australia has already suspended military cooperation with Myanmar and redirected aid to non-government organisations.

However, Mr Jadwat said attempts to redirect aid to the most vulnerable in Myanmar were being hampered by the volatility of the situation.

“It is difficult – very difficult at this point,” he said. 

“What we want to make sure is no money ends up in the hands of the military.”

The UN Security Council has also strongly condemned violence against peaceful protesters in Myanmar. 

Three Australians are among those who have been detained during the military’s crackdown.

This includes the detention of Australian economist Sean Turnell – a former adviser to deposed leader Ms Suu Kyi.

DFAT official Lynette Wood said Australian officials continue to make “extensive” representations on his behalf.

“We are undertaking extensive and sustained representations to Myanmar and to other governments regarding his detention,” she said.

Australia’s current sanctions against Myanmar generals relate to those accused of leading a crackdown on the country’s Rohingya minority in 2017.

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