News World Australia suspends military ties with Myanmar
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Australia suspends military ties with Myanmar

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Australian troops will no longer help the Myanmar military as the Morrison government shifts its diplomatic approach following the brutal killings of at least 50 anti-coup protesters.

The federal government has also redirected aid to non-government organisations in response to the escalating violence.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne condemned security forces who have used live ammunition to quell the growing unrest, which erupted after elected leader Ang San Suu Kyi was detained on February 1.

In a statement on Sunday night, she expressed the government’s “grave concerns” about the “escalating violence and rising death toll”.

“We condemn the use of lethal force or violence against civilians exercising their universal rights, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” Ms Payne said.

Australia had been facing growing calls to suspend military cooperation with Myanmar.

The Morrison government has now agreed to pause its bilateral Defence Cooperation Program.

Ms Payne said Australia had undertaken extensive consultation with international partners, particularly ASEAN neighbours Japan and India, about its policy settings in relation to Myanmar.

“Australia has had a limited bilateral Defence Co-operation Program with Myanmar’s military, restricted to non-combat areas such as English language training,” she said.

“This program will be suspended.

“Australia’s development program is also being re-directed to the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities.”

Protesters surrender in Yangon at the point of a gun. Photo: AP

The re-prioritising of aid would address “the most pressing humanitarian and emerging needs and seek to ensure our humanitarian engagement is with and through non-government organisations”.

Ms Payne strongly urged security forces to “exercise restraint and refrain from violence against civilians”.

She said there was continuing concern for Australian economic professor and adviser to Ms Suu Kyi, Sean Turnell, detained in Yangon with limited consular access for over 30 days.

“We call for the immediate release of Professor Sean Turnell, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others who have been arbitrarily detained since 1 February,” the senator said.

Ms Payne’s announcement came as an official from the party of the deposed Myanmar leader died overnight in police custody.

The cause of death of National League for Democracy official Khin Maung Latt was not known.

Ba Myo Thein, a member of the upper house of parliament which was dissolved after the coup, said reports of bruising to Khin Maung Latt’s head and body raised suspicions that he had been abused.

“It seems that he was arrested at night and tortured severely,” he told Reuters. “This is totally unacceptable.”

Rising death toll

The United Nations says security forces have killed more than 50 people to stamp out daily demonstrations and strikes in the Southeast Asian nation since the military overthrew and detained Ms Suu Kyi.

Some of the biggest protests in recent weeks were staged on Sunday.

Police fired stun grenades and tear gas to break up a sit-in by tens of thousands of people in Mandalay, the Myanmar Now media group said.

At least 70 people were arrested.

Police also launched tear gas and stun grenades in the direction of protesters in Yangon and in the town of Lashio in the northern Shan region, videos posted on Facebook showed.

A witness said police opened fire to break up a protest in the historic temple town of Bagan, and several residents said in social media posts that live bullets were used.

Videos showed soldiers beating up men in Yangon, where at least three protests were held despite overnight raids by security forces on campaign leaders and opposition activists.

So far, more than 1700 people have been detained under the military junta.

-with AAP