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Friday, April 19, 2024

Myanmar crisis

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“Myanmar has spiraled into civil war since a putsch in February last year, with the death toll from the military’s brutal crackdown on dissent passing 2,100…”

We’ve been following events in Myanmar since the military seized power in February 2021, alleging voting fraud in the November 2020 general election that was easily won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

But the Tatmadaw, as the military is called, gave no proof whatsoever of poll irregularities. As in, basta.

Instead, the junta promised to lift the state of emergency after one year.

Some 18 months later, however, that promise has been conveniently shelved, and worse, the Myanmar junta chief has announced another six months of emergency rule, with new elections pledged in August 2023 that critics do not believe would be free and fair.

That says a lot about its credibility. Or, as worse, they were never interested in giving up power in the first place.

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The head of Myanmar’s junta, Min Aung Hlaing, said their national defense and security council had given its approval of the extension.

“In our country, we must continue to strengthen the ‘genuine and disciplined multi-party democratic system’ which is the desire of the people,” the newspaper Global New Light quoted Min Aung Hlaing as saying.

That’s a total falsehood, as far as we can see.

The reality is that the junta appears unable to contain civil war since the coup, with conflict spreading across the Southeast Asian country after the army crushed mostly peaceful protests in cities.

Now there are ethnic groups that have banded together and taken up arms to fight the junta in hit-and-run operations against isolated military outposts in rugged terrain in the countryside.

Myanmar has spiraled into civil war since a putsch in February last year, with the death toll from the military’s brutal crackdown on dissent passing 2,100, according to a local monitoring group.

The Tatmadaw has responded to the continuing protests in the cities and threats from armed groups in the rural areas by executing four activist leaders allegedly for “aiding terror acts.”

They defended the execution of the activists as “justice for the people,” brushing off a deluge of international condemnation including by its closest neighbors.

The executions, however, have alarmed the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.

According to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the current ASEAN chairman, the regional bloc would be forced to reconsider a peace plan agreed with Myanmar if the country’s military rulers conduct more executions of prisoners.

The 10-nation bloc had been pushing for Myanmar to adhere to a five-point peace “consensus” agreed upon by ASEAN leaders and Hlaing in Jakarta on April 24, 2021.

First, there should be an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties must exercise the utmost restraint.

Second, constructive dialogue among all parties concerned must commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.

Third, a special envoy of the ASEAN chair must be permitted to help mediate the dialogue process, with the assistance of the secretary-general of ASEAN.

Fourth, ASEAN shall provide humanitarian assistance through the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance.

Fifth, the special envoy and delegation must be able to visit Myanmar and meet with all parties concerned.

Hun Sen said ASEAN’s unity had been challenged by the political and security implications of the crisis in Myanmar, which has spiraled into an economic and humanitarian crisis.

“All ASEAN member-states are deeply disappointed and disturbed by the execution of those opposition activists despite the appeals from me and others for the death sentence to be reconsidered for the sake of political dialogue, peace and reconciliation,” he said.

ASEAN has since late last year barred the Myanmar junta from joining its meetings due to the latter’s failure to make progress in implementing the peace plan. In effect, Myanmar has been suspended from the regional bloc for the time being.

Some other members of ASEAN, which has a tradition of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, have been increasingly strident in their criticism of the generals.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has described the executions as a crime against humanity and appearing to make “a mockery” of the ASEAN peace plan.

ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn, who is also Cambodia’s foreign minister and has made two trips to Myanmar since the coup, dampened expectations for major progress in the short term.

“I am just a special envoy. I think that even Superman cannot solve the Myanmar problem,” he told media recently

“Negotiation takes years, like the issue in Myanmar. After two visits of the special envoy, two visits only, some people start to lose patience and ask for results,” he added.

That statement from an ASEAN official sums up the difficulty of finding an immediate but lasting solution to the Myanmar crisis.

But we think our own foreign minister should also speak up and demand concrete action from the junta ahead of the scheduled ASEAN leaders’ summit in November.

That’s the least we can do as other ASEAN leaders have voiced out serious concern over the deepening Myanmar crisis.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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