CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – An Australian couple working as an agricultural development consultant in Myanmar are being held at their home after the woman was not allowed to leave the country, a friend said on Monday.
Christa Avery was denied permission to board a flight to Australia on Friday and she and her husband Matt O’Kane have been detained at their Yangon home since then, their Sydney-based friend said, Tim Harcourt, University of New South Wales economist.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement it was “providing consular assistance to two Australians in Myanmar”, but would not provide further details.
The couple were friends with Australian economic policy adviser Sean Turnell, who has been in detention since early February, Harcourt said.
Turnell was arrested weeks after arriving in Yangon from Australia to serve as a government adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, who was overthrown in a military coup on February 1.
Australia has repeatedly called for Turnell’s release. Two weeks ago, the Australian government announced that it had suspended defense cooperation with Myanmar and was redirecting humanitarian aid due to the military takeover and ongoing detention of Turnell.
Harcourt did not believe the couple had been detained because of their friendship with Turnell.
“They both work in areas where a lot of foreign aid money is coming into Myanmar,” Harcourt said, referring to Turnell and the couple.
“Maybe the junta is trying to figure out where the foreign money is coming from because most of the foreign aid has now dried up because they (the donors) don’t want to support the military,” he said. added Harcourt.
Avery, who was born in Canada and has dual citizenship, left Sydney ten years ago to work in Myanmar, Harcourt said.
The Australian community in Myanmar was small and “quite friendly to each other”, so it was not unusual for the couple to be friends with Turnell.
“They are in house arrest so it’s not as bad as Sean because they took him away,” said Harcourt, who is also Turnell’s friend.
“I just hope they can stay in house arrest and wait. It could explode, ”he added.
Avery did not immediately respond to an Associated Press email Monday.