President of Myanmar’s military filed new charge against Aung San Suu Kyi

The president of Myanmar’s military government filed a new criminal charge Friday against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, state media reported, along with increasing the costs for visa applications.

Military chief Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement that he is lodging a case against Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the ruling party, because of alleged corruption related to two luxury apartments owned by her and her family.

Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, said he couldn’t immediately comment on the charge, but noted that the rising costs for visa applications are hurting the already impoverished nation.

“It’s a lack of resources to actually register people who go abroad to do economic activities and marry and do other work,” he said, adding that the military government isn’t blocking access for anyone, and he was attempting to figure out the root cause of the fees.

“Why should people be treated this way?” he said.

Suu Kyi has been dogged by accusations of corruption and abuse of power during her tenure as a minister in the past, most notably over her private art collection, and more recently over accusations of amassing foreign currency. She has denied the accusations, but international criticism has fallen on Suu Kyi for seemingly doing too little to stem corruption in her country, where the military still wields influence with a considerable budget.

The charges, posted on the military-run media’s website, come one day after President Thein Sein, a former political prisoner who came to power in 2011 as part of a quasi-civilian government, said that his military-led administration was ready to take over if Myanmar needed a new one. It was the strongest sign yet that the government will not complete its term, which ends in late 2021.

The military, which has ruled Myanmar for five decades, took over power when then-military dictator Than Shwe unexpectedly stepped down in 2011. In a move widely viewed as amnesty for reformers in the former junta, the then-military-picked general was appointed president.

The army kept its hold on key ministries, including defense, and the constitution reserves 25 percent of seats in parliament for members of the military. But in addition to the president, Min Aung Hlaing is one of the president’s two deputies. The army also exercises immense power over a vast swath of the economy and security forces.

On Thursday, Min Aung Hlaing said his military should have a say in who represents Myanmar’s more than 80 ethnic groups if the country goes through another transition period. Suu Kyi has come under pressure in some of the country’s ethnic areas, notably over the Kachin and Shan minority movements, in which groups accuse the army of human rights abuses.

The new charges against Suu Kyi come after she was forced to appear in court Thursday for the first time to face charges of illegally staying in Yangon.

The charge against Suu Kyi had no effect on Thursday’s hearing. The president’s office said in a statement that the case will continue and hearings will resume March 14.

In the meantime, thousands of mostly Rohingya Muslims have been driven from their homes and detained by security forces in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state since deadly clashes in 2012. The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that a bombing in the town of Maungdaw killed two civilians and wounded five more.

The violence has reignited fierce criticism of Suu Kyi and her government over what many see as her ineffectiveness on the refugee crisis. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres called this week for an independent commission to oversee the return of Rohingya to their villages.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned this week that the unrest could lead to another “ethnic cleansing” of a Rohingya population that is estimated to number more than 1 million.

The violence has been going on for four years, but a recent spate of incidents and new charges against Suu Kyi show that the crackdown, along with other difficulties facing the Nobel laureate, could soon boil over.

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