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Australia 'appalled' by Myanmar executions, Penny Wong offers condolences to families still without answers

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Phyo Zeya Thaw arrives at the Myanmar parliament in yellow shirt with party pin and bag
Phyo Zeya Thaw's family says the junta is refusing to return his body.(AP)

In the wake of Myanmar's execution of four democracy advocates, the men's families have been left without answers about their loved ones' deaths — and even their bodies.

Sentenced to death in secretive trials in January and April, the four men were accused of helping a civilian resistance movement which has fought the military since last year's coup and bloody crackdown on nationwide protests.

Among those executed were democracy campaigner Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Jimmy, and former politician and hip hop artist Phyo Zeya Thaw, an ally of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi with close ties to Australia. The two others executed were Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.

State media reported the country's first executions in over three decades had been carried out, saying "the punishment has been conducted", but did not say when, or by what method. However, previous executions in Myanmar have been by hanging.

In a statement on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia opposed the death penalty in all circumstances.

She called on the regime in Myanmar to cease violence and release all those who were unjustly detained.

"Sanctions against members of Myanmar's military regime are under active consideration.

"We extend sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives since the coup."

Families of the executed men were denied the opportunity to retrieve their loved ones' bodies, Thazin Nyunt Aung, the wife of Phyo Zeya Thaw, said, comparing it to murderers covering up their crimes.

"This is killing and hiding bodies away," she said.

"They disrespected both Myanmar people and the international community."

Nilar Thein, Kyaw Min Yu's wife, said she would not hold a funeral without a body.

"We all have to be brave, determined and strong," she posted on Facebook.

Masked protesters walk the streets with signs following the executions of four activists
Social media videos show people have been protesting in the wake of the junta's executions.(Reuters: Lu Nge Khit)

The men were held in Yangon's Insein prison, where families visited last Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the events, who said prison officials allowed only one relative to speak to the detainees via video call.

"I asked then, 'Why didn't you tell me or my son that it was our last meeting?'" Khin Win May, the mother of Phyo Zeya Thaw, told BBC Burmese.

The junta made no mention of the executions on its nightly television news bulletin on Monday.

International condemnation, possible sanctions

While a spokesperson for the junta last month defended the death sentences as justified and said capital punishment was used in many countries, the executions drew widespread international criticism.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the executions and called for the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained prisoners.

"Including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi," a deputy UN spokesperson said.

The US says it will work with regional allies to hold the military accountable.

It called for a cessation of violence and the release of political detainees.

Washington is considering further measures against the junta, according to a US State Department spokesperson who added "all options" were on the table.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, sent a letter to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing last month appealing to him not to carry out the executions.

Meanwhile, France condemned the executions and called for dialogue among all parties, while Japan's Foreign Minister said the executions would further isolate Myanmar.

China's foreign ministry urged all parties in Myanmar to resolve conflicts within its constitutional framework.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the military, which has ruled the former British colony for five of the past six decades, engaged in battles on multiple fronts with newly formed militia groups.

The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners says more than 2,100 people have been killed by security forces since the coup. The junta says that figure is exaggerated.

The true picture of violence has been hard to assess, as clashes have spread to more remote areas where ethnic minority insurgent groups are also fighting the military. Close to a million people have been displaced by post-coup unrest.

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The Myanmar military junta has executed four democracy activists.


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