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Violent crackdown triggers S. Korean exodus from Myanmar

Army and police gather during a demonstration against the military coup in Kyauk Myaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar, on Saturday. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP-Yonhap)
Army and police gather during a demonstration against the military coup in Kyauk Myaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar, on Saturday. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP-Yonhap)

A growing number of South Koreans living in Myanmar are being evacuated from the country amid a violent crackdown on anti-coup protests that has left hundreds dead.

According to the Korean Foreign Ministry on Monday, a total of 411 Korean nationals residing in the Southeast Asian country have returned home since the military seized control of the country Feb. 1.

Starting this month, the number of chartered flights between Yangon and Incheon has been increased to facilitate the swift return of citizens -- from one or two flights per week to three flights per week, according to a ministry official. Another 274 Korean nationals are planning to return home within this month.

There are about 3,500 Korean nationals living in Myanmar, with 90 percent of them in its largest city, Yangon, where there are 251 Korean-run companies. With the latest departure, about 3,000 Koreans remain in the country. But as most of them operate businesses in the area, it’s hard for them to leave, the ministry official explained. 

The ministry said it will increase the number of flights if needed.

On Saturday, the ministry raised its travel advisory for Myanmar to the second-highest in the country’s four-notch system, warning against travel to Myanmar and recommending that citizens withdraw from the country unless there are urgent matters.

The measure was taken to protect their safety amid mounting violence following the Feb. 1 military coup, which removed the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. At least 557 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on anti-coup protests since February, according to the activist group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The ministry said it was considering whether to impose a travel ban, the strictest measure in its warning system, if the situation worsened in Myanmar.

It has also formed a team tasked with handling affairs related to the turmoil in Myanmar, with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong chairing the team.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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