Britain on Thursday condemned “bullying” by the Myanmar junta after the country’s ambassador to London was ousted in an extraordinary diplomatic coup after calling for the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Diplomats loyal to the Myanmar military authorities seized control of the embassy on Wednesday, leaving ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn locked out in the street.
The ambassador said the defense attache had taken over the mission in “a kind of coup” two months after the military seized power in Myanmar.
Daily protests demanding a return of democracy have rocked the country and brought a brutal response from the armed forces, with almost 600 civilians killed according to a local monitoring group.
The coup prompted several high-profile diplomatic defections, including the country’s ambassador to the United Nations.
The junta recalled Kyaw Zwar Minn last month after he issued a statement urging them to release Suu Kyi and deposed civilian President Win Myint.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab tweeted his support for the ambassador.
“We condemn the bullying actions of the Myanmar military regime in London yesterday, and I pay tribute to Kyaw Zwar Minn for his courage,” Raab wrote.
“The UK continues to call for an end to the coup and the appalling violence, and a swift restoration of democracy.”
Protesters gathered outside the mission on Wednesday evening with the ousted ambassador, who told the Daily Telegraph that “when I left the embassy, they stormed inside the embassy and took it.”
“They said they received instruction from the capital, so they are not going to let me in,” he added, calling on the British government to intervene.
Asked who had taken over, he replied: “Defense attache, they occupy my embassy.”
According to The Times newspaper, the ambassador said the defense attache had sought to install his former deputy as charge d’affaires.
AFP has tried to contact Myanmar’s military authorities for comment on the incident, but has not yet received a response.
Myanmar’s security forces have struggled to quell protests and a civil disobedience movement aimed at stopping the military from running the country.
They have used rubber bullets and live rounds to break up rallies and used night raids to arrest suspected dissidents.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says at least 598 civilians have been killed and nearly 2,900 detained.
AAPP said that 12 people were killed on Wednesday alone.
As part of its efforts to suppress the movement, the junta has issued a wanted notice for some 120 celebrities accused of fanning the protests by lending their support.
On Thursday, the military arrested leading actor, model and heartthrob Paing Takhon in a dawn raid at his mother’s home in Yangon.
The 24-year-old – a star in both Myanmar and neighboring Thailand – has been active in the protest movement both in person at rallies and through his massive social media following.
In February, he posted pictures of himself in a white tracksuit with a megaphone, hard hat and a white fluffy dog strapped to his chest at a protest.
International powers have voiced anger and dismay at the junta’s brutal approach, but the UN Security Council has stopped short of considering sanctions, with both China and Russia against the move.
Junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing accused the protesters of wanting to “destroy the country” and said only 248 protesters had been killed, along with 16 police officers.