Free our journalist, US tells junta


The United States called on Myanmar’s military regime to release the American editor of a news outlet based in the coup-hit country who was detained earlier this week as he attempted to board a flight.

“We are deeply concerned over the detention of US citizen Daniel Fenster (pic), who was working as a journalist, in Burma, ” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

“We have pressed the military regime to release him immediately and will continue to do so until he is allowed to return home safely to his family.”

Daniel, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was detained on Monday at the international airport in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, his outlet said on Twitter.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power in a Feb 1 coup, with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement.

More than 800 civilians have been killed in an ongoing bloody military crackdown, according to a local monitoring group.

The press has been caught in the crackdown as the junta tries to tighten control over the flow of information, throttling Internet access and revoking the licences of local media outlets.

“The detention of Daniel, as well as arrest and use of violence by the Burmese military against other journalists, constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma, ” the State Department spokesperson said.

Consular officers from the US embassy in Yangon have attempted to visit Daniel, but have so far not been given access to him, the spokesperson said.

“We urge the Burmese regime to grant consular access, as required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, without delay, and to ensure proper treatment of Daniel while he remains detained, ” the spokesperson added.

Frontier said it was concerned for Daniel’s wellbeing and did not know why the 37-year-old journalist had been detained.

Daniel, who had been working for the outlet for around a year, was heading home to see his family, Frontier’s chief editor Thomas Kean said.

“Our priorities right now are to make sure he is safe and to provide him with whatever assistance he needs, ” the outlet said in a tweet.

Meanwhile, the underground government set up by opponents of Myanmar’s military junta said its first batch of recruits have finished training for a new defence force, releasing a video of them parading in uniform.

The National Unity Government had announced it would form a People’s Defence Force to challenge the army.

The video of the graduation ceremony was released on Friday in the name of Yee Mon, the shadow government’s defence minister.

“This military is established by the official civilian government, ” an unidentified officer says at the ceremony.

“The People’s Defence Force must be aligned with the people and protect the people. We will fight to win this battle.”

A junta spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment.

The military authorities say the National Unity Government is treasonous and that both it and the People’s Defence Force have been designated as terrorist groups.

The video shows around 100 fighters marching on a muddy parade ground in the jungle. They march in new camouflage uniforms behind the flags of the new force, red with a white star. They are not shown carrying weapons.

Nearly four months after the coup, the army is still struggling to impose order.

Anti-military protests take place daily in many parts of the country, strikes by opponents of the junta have paralysed business and fighting has flared with ethnic armed groups that oppose the junta and new militias formed to oppose it.

Two homemade bombs exploded in the main city of Yangon yesterday, apparently targeting a police post and an army truck, the Mizzima news service said. It said one person speaking to the soldiers had been wounded in the second incident.

The junta’s forces have killed over 800 people since the coup, according to figures cited by the United Nations. More than 4,000 people have been detained.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing says the civilian death toll is nearer 300 and has said around 50 members of the police have been killed. He gave no figure for soldiers. Groups fighting the armed forces say they have inflicted scores of casualties.

The army justified its coup on the grounds of fraud in an election swept by Suu Kyi’s party in November. The allegations were rejected by the previous electoral commission.

Suu Kyi, 75, is on trial on a series of charges that her lawyers say are politically motivated. — Agencies

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