The Australian government has spent more than $2.5 million in public funds on luxury housing linked to Myanmar’s military junta since it overthrew the country’s democratically elected government in a coup last week. last year.
- Rights groups say Australia is failing the people of Myanmar by patronizing these hotels
- Foreign Secretary Penny Wong says Australian operations in Myanmar do not directly fund military regime
- A verdict in the case of detained Australian Sean Turnell is expected next month
Australia has repeatedly condemned the actions of the junta, which has killed more than 2,273 people and arrested more than 15,500 since taking power on February 1 last year, according to the Association for the Assistance of political prisoners.
But over the past 18 months, the government has spent more than $1.5 million on staff accommodation at Shangri-La residences in Yangon, as well as $862,000 at the Lotte Hotel, an increase from the figure of $750,000 previously reported by the ABC.
The Australian government has also spent $162,000 on short-term accommodation at MGallery in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, which is run by hotel company Accor but owned by the Max Myanmar group.
Both Shangri-La and Max Myanmar were named to the UN Myanmar fact-finding mission in a 2019 report urging companies to cut financial ties to the military, also known as Tatmadaw.
This report called for a criminal investigation into Max Myanmar, after President Zaw Zaw, through the Ayeyarwady Foundation, donated nearly US$1 million in 2017 to the military for the construction of a fence along the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Funding for the border wall “played a vital role in the inhumane act of preventing the Rohingya from accessing their homeland” in northern Rakhine state, “thereby causing great suffering and anguish”, according to the report.
It concluded that Max Myanmar officials “aid, abet or otherwise aid in the commission of crimes against humanity of persecution and other inhumane acts”.
The ABC previously reported that the Lotte Hotel is being built on land leased from the Office of the Quartermaster General, which has been sanctioned by the US, UK and Canada for supplying artillery to the army.
Shangri-La also holds a lease with the Office of the Quartermaster General. Activist group Justice For Myanmar said neither Shangri-La nor the Myanmar military disclosed the amount paid through land leases.
“Lotte and Shangri-La are key business partners of the army, paying rent to the very part of the army that buys the bombs and bullets used to slaughter the people,” said Yadanar Maung of Justice For Myanmar.
“Max Myanmar was complicit in the genocide against the Rohingya and must be held accountable.
“Australia is failing the people of Myanmar. Not only does it consistently refuse to sanction Myanmar war criminals and their businesses, but the government is even using taxpayers’ money for businesses that help Myanmar’s military continue. to commit international crimes.”
Foreign Secretary Penny Wong revealed the Australian government’s spending on rental properties linked to the Myanmar military in response to a question on notice from Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John.
In her response, Senator Wong said: “The Australian Government’s operations in Myanmar do not directly fund the Myanmar military.
As for Lotte, Chris Sidoti of the United Nations Myanmar Fact Finding Mission previously told the ABC that ultimately the money goes back to the military, a claim echoed by Manny Maung of Human Rights Watch.
“The octopus tentacles are very long – we know that companies that can take money out of Australia then probably pay a fee to the owner. In this case, the owner happens to be the Myanmar military.”
Turnell is expected to learn fate in the coming weeks
The revelation comes as local media reported that Australian economist Sean Turnell, detained since February last year, is expected to learn his fate in a secret trial next month.
Citing an unnamed court source, the Irrawaddy said Prof Turnell gave evidence behind closed doors last week, pleading not guilty and saying the documents in his possession were not confidential but were his recommendations economic interests in the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Sen. Steele-John said cutting funding ties to the military should be a priority and “it’s the least we can do to address this crisis in our region.”
“Australia absolutely should not do business with companies that have links to the Myanmar military,” he said.
“I call on the Australian government to condemn the military in Myanmar for their actions. To condemn the coup and then spend $2.5 million that could go to the military junta is hypocritical.”
In her response, Senator Wong added that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has confirmed that the list of goods suppliers is not subject to targeted financial sanctions in Australia.
Australia has not imposed any new sanctions on the Myanmar military since the coup.
In a statement, a DFAT spokesperson said “the safety and security of our staff in Myanmar is our top priority, there are a limited number of suitably secure accommodation options for Australian staff in the context of current security.
“Our staff accommodation is in line with that used by other embassies, some of which rent through the same companies or suppliers. We are keeping accommodation options under review.”
They added that the Australian Embassy did not have an “active lease” with the MGallery hotel, which was used by “for the purpose of conducting official business”.
Max Myanmar and Shangri-La have also been contacted for comment.
A spokesman for Accor, which operates the MGallery hotel, said the issues raised in the report of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar did not result in any sanctions against Max Myanmar and that “no official investigation has been opened by any governmental authority and there has been no validation or prosecution of the facts alleged in the report”.
“If an investigation is opened and sanctions are taken against Max Myanmar, then Accor will act in accordance with our legal obligations,” they said, adding that Accor was not aware of the military interests in the ownership of the hotels. they manage in Myanmar.
“While we are closely monitoring local developments, please also know that Accor hotels have served as havens for guests, including foreign citizens, journalists and NGOs, as they always do in times of unrest.”
Deaths in police custody “tip of the iceberg”
The revelations about the spending come as a new Human Rights Watch report was released this week, shedding light on six deaths in custody under military rule.
The Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners has identified at least 73 people who died in custody in prisons, police stations or military interrogation centers, but this represents only a small percentage of the approximately 700 people believed to have been killed shortly after being apprehended by security forces.
“The six deaths documented by Human Rights Watch are just the tip of the iceberg of the suffering and torture of those detained by Myanmar’s military and police,” said Maung.
Many were arrested at night and families fear they were beaten or tortured, while some were forced to quickly cremate the bodies “presumably to hide evidence of wrongdoing”, according to the report.
One of those arrested was Kyaw Swe Nyein, 55, after authorities accused him of spreading “fake news” and sharing a Facebook post supporting anti-coup protests.
“I was so grieved… If he died of natural causes, then I could forgive myself [that he died in prison] but now it’s the unknown that bothers,” a family member told HRW.
Another who died in custody was poet Khet Thi, 43, whose words became part of the resistance to military rule: ‘They shoot in the head, but they don’t know that the revolution is in the heart’ , he wrote.
The rights group also consulted emergency physician Dr Rohini Haar to analyze the footage of the deceased.
“After reviewing the photographs and videos of the five victims after their deaths, it is clear from the physical marks on the bodies and faces that these men suffered tremendously and that torture took place,” Dr Haar said in the report.
“There are so many signs of abuse and torture that it is difficult to determine exactly what killed these individuals.”
The ABC contacted Myanmar’s military information unit but did not receive a timely response.
Ms Maung of Human Rights Watch said Australian government spending was particularly painful in light of the alleged atrocities she documented.
“This is shocking. Rather than filling military coffers, Australia should work to act with other like-minded governments and punish the perpetrators of these crimes, not enrich them,” he said. she declared.
“It really, really hurts the people of Myanmar to know that Australia is saying one thing, but acting in a very, very different way.”