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UN: “urgent” response needed to avert Myanmar’s “catastrophe"

In a report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expresses concern that Myanmar's crisis could develop into a large-scale disaster.
Pro-democracy demonstrators protest against the junta in Mandalay, Myanmar. (AFP or licensors)

In a report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expresses concern that Myanmar's crisis could develop into a large-scale disaster.

Fearing that Myanmar military’s grip on power would be increasingly difficult to counter, the United Nations chief has called for an urgent concerted response from the Southeast Asia region and the international community, following the February 1 military coup that toppled the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres thinks it would be too late before the situation could develop into a large-scale conflict and multi-faceted ``catastrophe'' in the heart of Southeast Asia and beyond.

“It is urgent to mount a unified international and regional response to help to put Myanmar back on the path to democratic reform,” he said in a document circulated at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 29 at the UN headquarters in New York.

"The opportunity to prevent the military from entrenching its rule could be narrowing," and it is important to support "the democratic aspirations of the people of Myanmar".  

At least 1,146 people have been killed and more than 8,000 people have been detained in a brutal crackdown by the military security forces on anti-coup protesters, dissidents and strikers, according to the rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which documents and compiles a list of casualties by the military. 

The UN has backed a five-point plan adopted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar, that calls for stopping violence, constructive dialogue, the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy as mediator and humanitarian aid.  

It took until early August for ASEAN to pick Brunei's Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof as their special envoy, but he is reportedly still negotiating with the military on the terms of a visit.

In his report, Guterres called for ``timely and comprehensive implementation of the five-point consensus to facilitate a peaceful solution,'' and strongly encouraged ASEAN to work with the UN. Noting ineffective ASEAN progress, the UN chief feels it is time for broader international action as well.

“The risk of a large-scale armed conflict requires a collective approach to prevent a multi-dimensional catastrophe in the heart of Southeast Asia and beyond,'' the secretary-general said.

“Grave humanitarian implications, including rapidly deteriorating food security, an increase in mass displacements and a weakened public health system compounded by a new wave of Covid-19 infections require a coordinated approach in complementarity with regional actors.''

Myanmar’s kyat hit new lows this week, having lost more than 60% of its value since the beginning of September.  This has brought more misery on the people, driving up food and fuel prices in an economy that has plummeted since the coup. 

Rising prices of goods and fuel have posed major challenges to previous military governments, with the cost of cooking gas among the triggers of a monk-led "Saffron Revolution" in 2007. 

The World Bank predicted on Monday the economy would slump 18% this year and Myanmar would see Southeast Asia's biggest contraction in employment.

Guterres said it is imperative to restore Myanmar's constitutional order and uphold the results of the November 8, 2020 election, which Su Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD party won by an overwhelming margin. 

The army carried out the coup, alleging “election fraud”.  He urged neighboring countries to use their influence over the military to have it “respect the will of the people and to act in the greater interest of peace and stability in the country and region.''

Guterres further said the international and regional effort must be accompanied by the immediate release of Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other government officials as well as immediate humanitarian access and aid, especially to vulnerable communities, including some 600,000 Rohingya Muslims still in northern Rakhine state and the more than 700,000 who fled a 2017 military crackdown and are now in camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Guterres’ report, which covering the period from mid-August 2020 to mid-August 2021, said that since the military takeover, security forces have engaged in wide-ranging ``brutal repression,'' especially of those protesting Suu Kyi's ouster, sparked a political crisis with wide implications for the region, and carried out serious human rights violations.

"Those expressing opposition to the military and joining democratic movements, as well as their relatives and associates, have been subject to arbitrary killings and detentions, disappearances, night raids, intimidation and torture,'' Guterres said.

The secretary-general said there have also been numerous reports of sexual and gender-based violence by the security forces.  Students and education staff have been primary targets of repression, with Myanmar Teachers' Federation reporting at least 70 students and five teachers killed by security forces with many more detained, suspended or dismissed.  Guterres said there have also been numerous reports of violence targeting security forces as well as killings of individuals suspected of collaborating with the military.  - Vatican News

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