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S. Korean civic groups join forces to back fight against Myanmar coup

Protesters are dispersed as riot police fire tear gas during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, March 8, 2021. (AP-Yonhap)
Protesters are dispersed as riot police fire tear gas during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, March 8, 2021. (AP-Yonhap)
As the people of Myanmar chant in unison for the freedom that was stolen from them a month ago in a military coup, South Korean civic groups are banding together to help them brace for what could become a protracted struggle against military rule after 10 years under a civilian government.

Rights activists and religious groups are offering support in different ways.

“We’re building a coalition in Gwangju,” Cho Jin-tae, executive director of the May 18 Memorial Foundation, said Tuesday. The foundation commemorates the victims of the Gwangju Uprising in 1980, when Koreans fought against the country’s military dictatorship and 166 civilians were killed in retaliation.

Cho, who is leading the movement, said he has the support not only from human rights groups in and outside the southwestern city, but from the city itself. Gwangju Metropolitan City will provide key necessities such as medical supplies, which are in greater demand in Myanmar now, he said.

The worsening crackdowns on protests in Myanmar have killed more than 50 people so far, according to a UN estimate. As the unrest shows no signs of easing anytime soon, the coalition will carry on with the assistance until it sees improvement, Cho said, adding that joint efforts guarantee a more sustainable coalition.

“The Myanmar communities here will not be left alone. They have our full support,” Cho added.

Religious groups too are preparing a coordinated response to the monthlong turmoil in the Southeast Asian country.

“We won’t just be throwing out support; we will make it last long enough with ground help there,” said the Rev. Jeong Jin-woo, who leads a committee on the Myanmar situation for the National Council of Churches in Korea, one of the four largest Christian groups here.

Jeong said his group would be in close consultations with its counterpart in Myanmar, the Myanmar Council of Churches. The minister acknowledged that Myanmar’s generals have a tight grip on every channel of outside support.

“The locals can’t make cash withdrawals at ATMs and they can’t even communicate with us in an email. They fear the military could pick it up and penalize them,” Jeong said.

But he said his team would not succumb to the intervention and that it was time for Korean churches to return the favors he said they had received when this country was under military rule in the 1980s and ’90s. The only way to pay the debt is to make sure help stays durable, Jeong said.

Meanwhile, some activists took the protest to local companies, which they accuse of playing a role in the Myanmar coup.

“Some South Korean firms are actually helping the Myanmar generals who own the joint ventures between the two countries. Putting a stop to that is a must that could deal a blow to the coup,” said Park Do-hyung, co-president of the Declaration of Global Citizens in Korea.

The group, which said it would remind the public of the situation until it is resolved, staged a rally near Posco, demanding that the steelmaker sever ties with firms that Myanmar’s generals control. Posco admitted working with Myanmar-based firms but denied having funneled any cash, such as dividends, to the military.

“That’s beside the point. As long as those generals hold stakes in the joint ventures, they reap benefits. It’s only a matter of when,” Park said, adding that Posco, which the Korean government controls through a pension fund, should live up to the words of its largest shareholder.

President Moon Jae-in on Saturday called on the Myanmar generals to stop the violence against their own people, saying Korea stands firmly with the people of Myanmar for the peaceful restoration of democracy.

“Cutting the ties is one way to see that happen,” Park said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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