YANGON (REUTERS) - South-East Asian and Western countries have urged all sides in Myanmar to refrain from violence and allow in humanitarian aid, after a shadow government, formed by opponents of military rule, declared a nationwide uprising against the junta.
The National Unity Government (NUG) said on Tuesday (Sept 7) it was launching a “people’s defensive war” in a bid to coordinate groups fighting the military and convince troops and administration officials to switch sides.
A military spokesman dismissed that as a futile effort to gain world attention.
Security forces were out in strength in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, on Wednesday, a day after protests and a flare-up in fighting between the army and ethnic minority insurgents.
“All parties must prioritise the safety and well-being of the Myanmar people,” Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said, noting that security was necessary for humanitarian assistance to proceed.
Indonesia has taken a lead among Myanmar’s neighbours in trying to resolve a crisis triggered when the military toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.
Britain’s Ambassador to Myanmar Pete Vowles on Facebook condemned the coup and what he called brutality by the junta and urged “all sides to engage in dialogue”.
Security forces have killed hundreds of protesters since the coup while some junta opponents have formed armed groups under the banner of People’s Defence Forces.
They have also forged alliances with ethnic minority armies long at odds with Myanmar’s military.
Big protests took place in Sagaing, Magway, and Mandalay on Wednesday, while media reported fighting between the army and Kachin rebels.
It was not immediately clear if the developments were in response to the NUG’s call and it remains to be seen to what extent the shadow government can influence the course of events.
“The NUG declaration has received strong support on Myanmar social media,” said Richard Horsey, a Myanmar expert at the International Crisis Group.
But he said it was not clear if opposition forces had the capacity to escalate the fight against Myanmar’s well-equipped military and the NUG’s declaration of “war” might backfire by making it harder for some countries to support it.
‘Back to the drawing board’
Chris Sidoti of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a panel of international experts, said the NUG was frustrated by the junta’s brutality and inaction by the international community.
“Violence is the cause of the suffering of the people of Myanmar, it is not the solution,” Sidoti said. “We empathise with the NUG, but we fear for what will happen as a result of this decision.”
The NUG’s defence ministry on Wednesday said 29 soldiers were killed in clashes in four regions and an unspecified number had defected. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
While Western countries have imposed sanctions to press the junta, the Association of South-East Asian Nations has led efforts for a diplomatic solution, but some members of the bloc, including Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, are exasperated by the absence of progress on a peace plan the junta had agreed to.
“Now with the latest event, you really have to go back to the drawing board,” Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah, told a news conference, referring to the NUG’s call for a revolt.
An Asean envoy to Myanmar, Erywan Yusof, was quoted as saying at the weekend that the military had accepted his proposal for a ceasefire to allow aid distribution.
But no side in the conflict has confirmed this.
Asked on Wednesday for his response to the NUG announcement, his office said: “The Special Envoy is monitoring the situation closely.”
In Washington, a US State Department spokesman noted the declaration of a “people’s defensive war” but called for peace to allow the aid and medicine delivery, the US-funded Radio Free Asia reported.
“The United States does not condone violence as a solution to the current crisis,” said the spokesman.
While most Western countries have condemned the army for ousting Suu Kyi’s government, China, which has considerable economic interests in Myanmar, has taken a softer line in pushing for stability and non-interference.
The state-run Global Times newspaper warned against Western countries backing anti-junta forces militarily. “If armed clashes are indulged and political extremist action is encouraged, then the country will be plagued by endless battles and trouble,” it said in an opinion piece.