YANGON: Myanmar demonstrators who bang pots and pans in protest at last year's coup can be charged with high treason, the junta warned Tuesday, days ahead of the putsch's one-year anniversary. The February 1 coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's government and sent the Southeast Asian country into turmoil, with the economy in freefall and nearly 1,500 civilians dead in a crackdown on dissent.

Almost a year on the junta is struggling to break resistance to its rule, with "People's Defence Forces" (PDF) clashing regularly with its troops in many areas. The military has declared all PDF groups, as well as a shadow "National Unity Government" (NUG) dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi's party, as "terrorists".

In a statement on Tuesday it said that PDF groups and the NUG had been encouraging people to "destroy state stability... by performing silent strikes, clapping, banging pots and pans, car honking and etc".

Those engaging in noisy protests "or who share propaganda" against the military could be charged with high treason under the anti-terrorism law or with agitating against the military, it added. Since the coup, cities and towns across Myanmar have periodically rung with the sounds of banging pots and pans-a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil spirits.

In December a "Silent Strike" emptied cities and towns across the country as protesters marked Human Rights Day. Treason and terror offences carry sentences ranging from three years in jail to death-although Myanmar has not carried out a judicial execution in decades. Since the coup nearly 1,500 people have been killed by security forces and over 11,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group. Yesterday Human Rights Watch called for sanctions to block foreign currency payments to the junta from Myanmar's lucrative natural gas industry.

The statement came days after energy giants TotalEnergies and Chevron said they would leave the country following pressure from human rights groups to cut financial ties with the military junta. "Natural gas revenue to the junta will continue because other companies will take over their operations," said John Sifton, the rights group's Asia advocacy director.

Thailand's state-owned PTT and South Korea's POSCO, "the two main energy companies remaining in Myanmar, should signal their support for such measures", he said. "Junta leaders are not going to turn away from their brutality and oppression unless governments impose more significant financial pressure on them." - AFP