Junta detains ex-UK envoy, hubby

YANGON, Myanmar (AFP) — Myanmar authorities have detained the United Kingdom’s former ambassador to the country, a diplomatic source said on Thursday.

Vicky Bowman, who served as envoy from 2002 to 2006 was arrested on Wednesday in the commercial hub Yangon, the source said, requesting anonymity.

A spokesperson for the UK embassy said they were “concerned by the arrest of a British woman in Myanmar,” without mentioning Bowman by name.

“We are in contact with the local authorities and are providing consular assistance,” they said.

Bowman’s husband and prominent artist Htein Lin was also arrested, the diplomatic source said. Local media said the pair had been taken to Yangon’s Insein prison.

A source with knowledge of Bowman’s case said the pair had been arrested for allegedly violating immigration laws. Each charge carries a maximum of five years in prison.

A junta spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Ties between the UK and Myanmar have soured since the military takeover in 2021, with the junta earlier this year criticizing Britain’s recent downgrading of its mission in the country as “unacceptable.”

Prior to serving as ambassador, Bowman was the second secretary in the UK’s embassy from 1990 to 1993. She now works as director at the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business and is a fluent Burmese speaker.

Htein Lin was arrested in 1998 and imprisoned for allegedly opposing the rule of the then-junta.

After he was freed in 2004, he came to the attention of then-ambassador Bowman for a series of paintings he had made while imprisoned, using smuggled materials.

Bowman’s husband and prominent artist Htein Lin was also arrested

She persuaded him to let her take the paintings for his own security, and the pair married in 2006.

‘Provocative step’
“This is a provocative step for the regime to take,” Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“Vicky and Htein Lin are hugely respected and have contributed so much to Myanmar over the decades. The fact that Vicky is the former British ambassador adds further gravity to this case.”

The UK government has sanctioned several military-linked companies and individuals following the army’s power grab last year, which triggered mass uprisings and a bloody crackdown on dissent.

On Thursday, the UK announced new sanctions on companies it said had helped raise funds for the military during its 2017 crackdown on the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

Scores of foreign nationals have been caught up in the junta’s crackdown following its power grab.

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