Australia demands Myanmar release detained Australian

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FILE – In this July 28, 2020, file photo, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks a news conference at the State Department in Washington. Australia has demanded Myanmar immediately release an Australian advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government who was detained in a military coup, an official said on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. “We have called for the immediate release of Australian citizen Prof. Sean Turnell from detention,” Payne said. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool Photo via AP, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has demanded Myanmar immediately release an Australian adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government who was detained in a military coup, an official said on Monday.

Economic policy adviser Sean Turnell had told friends via social media that he was detained. He has been out of contact in recent days.

“We have called for the immediate release of Australian citizen Prof. Sean Turnell from detention,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

The Australian Embassy in Myanmar had been providing Turnell with “extensive support during this ordeal,” she said.

Senator Payne declined to speculate on potential sanctions that could be placed on Myanmar, but said Australia’s military ties with the country were under review.

Australia has a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over fives years.

U.S. President Joe Biden agreed with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a telephone conversation last week to work together to “hold to account those responsible for the coup,” the White House said.

Turnell’s friend and fellow Myanmar expert Monique Skidmore said she believed the Macquarie University economics professor had been detained because of his close relationships with ousted leader Suu Kyi and other senior members of her National League for Democracy party.

“I think it’s just his closeness that’s got him detained,” Skidmore said.

Skidmore expected Turnell would be deported and remained “terribly worried” for his safety while he remained in the country.

Australian diplomats had planned to get Turnell out of the country and he had been waiting for a car to take him to the Yangon airport when the military arrived to collect him from the city’s Chatrium Hotel, his friend and fellow Australian economist Tim Harcourt said.

Turnell had arrived in Myanmar from Australia less than a month ago and had been staying at the hotel. He permanent residence was in the capital Naypyitaw.

Turnell had been held in the hotel and in a police station, Skidmore said.

Turnell Tweeted last week after the coup began and before he was detained that he was “safe for now but heartbroken for what all this means for the people of Myanmar.”

“They deserve so much better,” he added.

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