Myanmar junta says no Asean envoy visit until stability restored

Protesters make the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on May 7, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Myanmar's ruling military, which is facing nationwide protests against the coup that removed the elected government three months ago, said on Friday (May 7) it would not agree to a visit by a South-East Asian envoy until it could establish stability.

Leaders of countries in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) reached consensus on five points at a summit on the Myanmar crisis last month, which was attended by the architect of the Feb 1 coup, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

These included an end to violence, dialogue between the military and its opponents, allowing humanitarian help, and permitting a visit by a special Asean envoy.

"Right now, we are prioritising the security and stability of the country," Major Kaung Htet San, a spokesman for the military council, told a televised briefing.

"Only after we achieve a certain level of security and stability, we will cooperate regarding that envoy." The junta would consider suggestions made at the summit if they were helpful to its visions for the country, he added.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which unleashed anger amongst a public unwilling to tolerate a return to military rule after five decades of economic mismanagement and underdevelopment.

Protests and marches have taken place on most days, the latest a big pro-democracy demonstration on Friday in the commercial capital Yangon, and smaller protests in at least 10 other places around the country.

At least 769 people have been killed and nearly 3,700 detained in the military's crackdown on opponents, according to an advocacy group monitoring the crisis.

The junta says it is battling terrorists. On Friday, spokesman Kaung Htet San said more arrests of instigators of violence had been made than were publicly announced.

The April 24 Asean meeting in Jakarta was hailed as a success by those who attended, but analysts and activists remain sceptical that Myanmar's generals will implement the five-point plan, which had no timeframe nor any mention of releasing political prisoners, including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kaung Htet San said Asean leaders had provided positive suggestions to Min Aung Hlaing, but whether or not they would be followed depended on the situation in Myanmar, and if their ideas were "helpful to our further visions".

Conflicts reignited

The prospect of stability anytime soon in Myanmar appears bleak, with a reigniting of conflict between the military and ethnic minority insurgents in the borderlands and minor bombings and explosions now taking place regularly in its main cities.

The junta says it is fighting rogue elements of ethnic armies and all parties remain committed to a nationwide ceasefire. It has blamed the spate of urban bombings on supporters of Suu Kyi's ousted government.

A recently formed National Unity Government, a coalition of anti-military groups, says the junta orchestrated the bombings as a pretext to crush its opponents.

Two local media outlets on Friday reported that fighters from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) attacked and killed 30 Myanmar troops as they tried to travel on a river, citing local people and a KIA source.

Kaung Htet San said violence and armed conflicts would be dealt with by the military "in a suitable way".

The junta has for months limited access to the internet in an effort to disrupt the anti-coup movement and this week banned satellite television receivers of outside broadcasts.

Kaung Htet San said the military respected the public's right to access information, but overseas-based social networks were being used to share material that was "very alarming for national security".

He also said security would be intensified to protect strategic gas pipelines, following an attack on security personnel at one location nearly Mandalay this week.

Myanmar has twin oil and gas pipelines that stretch across the country to China, a country many in Myanmar believe enabled generals to amass vast personal wealth from natural resources, at a time of crippling sanctions and international isolation.

China has said it takes no sides in the conflict and wants a stable Myanmar.

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