UN calls for return to democracy in Myanmar, end to violence

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Friday again demanded the restoration of democracy in Myanmar and the release of all detainees including Aung San Suu Kyi and strongly backed calls by Southeast Asian nations for an immediate cessation of violence and talks as a first step toward a solution following the Feb. 1 military coup.

The council’s press statement followed a briefing by the top U.N. envoy that the strong, united demand for democracy by the people of Myanmar who have been protesting since the coup has created “unexpected difficulties” for military leaders in consolidating power and risks bringing the administration of the nation to a standstill.

Christine Schraner Burgener said in remarks to the closed council meeting obtained by The Associated Press that her discussions in the region “compounded” her concern that the situation in Myanmar is deteriorating in all areas. She pointed to a resurgence of fighting in ethnic areas, more poor people losing jobs, civil servants refusing to work to protest the coup and a brewing crisis of families in and around the main city Yangon “pushed to the edge” for food, going into debt and trying to survive.

Security Council members “reiterated their deep concern at the situation in Myanmar following the declaration of the state of emergency imposed by the military on Feb. 1 and reiterated their support for Myanmar’s democratic transition.”

The council also reiterated its previous statements which include strongly condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians, calling for the restoration of democracy and release of detainees. Council members have also called on the military “to exercise utmost restraint” and “on all sides to refrain from violence," and stressed “the need to fully respect human rights and to pursue dialogue and reconciliation.”

Schraner Burgener spoke by video from Bangkok where she returned after traveling to Jakarta to meet participants in the April 24 ministerial meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN which includes Myanmar and was attended by the junta’s military commander, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

The U.N. envoy said she met the commander-in-chief on the ASEAN sidelines and they agreed “to keep details of the exchange discreet to allow for continued frank and open discussions,” but she assured the council she “amplified” on the statements its 15 members had approved.

Based on her meeting with Gen. Hlaing, Schraner Burgener told the council that on Thursday she again requested to visit Myanmar. Her previous requests have been turned down by the military, which said the time was not right.

“In the past three years, I have built constructive relations and confidence with key actors in Myanmar and this would allow me to get straight to substantive exchanges on how the current deadlock could be resolved, if given access to the country,” she said. “My presence could also help calm tensions.”

The Security Council expressed hope that Schraner Burgener would visit Myanmar “as soon as possible.”

Schraner Burgener said she plans to stay in the region in the coming weeks and will remain in close contact with ASEAN members to support “the timely and comprehensive implementation” of its “five-point consensus” on Myanmar’s crisis.

It calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation of the dialogue process by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels and a visit to Myanmar by the association’s special envoy to meet all concerned parties.

The Security Council reiterated its “strong support for ASEAN’s positive and constructive role in facilitating a peaceful solution in support of the people of Myanmar and commended ASEAN’s continued efforts to engage with all relevant parties in Myanmar.

Council members called for full implementation of the “five-point consensus” without delay, encouraged continued ASEAN leadership, and backed an early visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN envoy, who has not yet been appointed.

The Security Council and Schraner Burgener made clear that they see the roles of the Security Council and ASEAN as complementary — the U.N.’s most powerful body as the critical international player and the Southeast Asian organization as the critical regional player.

Schraner Burgener said she held “important discussions” with the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand as well as ASEAN’s secretary general Lim Jock Hoi, calling these meetings “a testament to the commitment of the United Nations to support ASEAN and ensure complementarity.”

The Security Council also “encouraged complementarity of her work to the work of ASEAN.”

Britain's acting ambassador James Roscoe called the ASEAN demand for the immediate cessation of violence an “unconditional requirement" agreed by the Myanmar junta.

He expressed concern that general Hlaing said after the ASEAN meeting he would only consider its five points “recommended steps for solving the crisis after the situation stabilizes."

The Feb. 1 coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. The coup took place following November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly and the military contests.

Since the ASEAN summit, demonstrations have continued in many parts of Myanmar against the junta, as have arrests and beatings by security forces, despite an apparent agreement by Hlaing to end the violence. Many demonstrators expressed discontent at the ASEAN meeting’s outcome, especially its failure to demand the release of political leaders. Suu Kyi was arrested in the coup and is among an estimated 3,400 people still being held.

Schraner Burgener told the council: “The release of all political prisoners and other detainees as well as full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms will be paramount.”

She warned that “ongoing reports of lethal force, arrests and mistreatment since, risk undermining momentum generated from the ASEAN leaders' meeting."

Schraner Burgener cited “a resurgence of fighting in ethnic areas ... with reports of continued airstrikes displacing thousands and killing innocent civilians."

The U.N. envoy also noted “the reported use of improvised explosive devices" and “concerning reports that civilians, mostly students from the urban areas, are now receiving training in the use of weapons in the regions of the ethnic armed organizations."

“Confidence-building measures are urgently required,” she said, expressing hope that her visit will take place “as it could help provide space to move ahead on the consensus points.”

Schraner Burgener said fatalities are rising every day, citing the latest figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners that more than 756 people have been killed and 3,450 arrested, charged or sentenced.

The United Nations estimates that around 20,000 people have fled their home and remain internally displaced in Myanmar while almost 10,000 have fled to neighboring countries, the U.N. envoy said, and the World Food Program says preexisting poverty, COVID-19 and the political crisis are likely to lead 3.4 million more people to suffer from hunger within the next six months.