Outgoing UN envoy says Myanmar has spiraled into civil war

Demonstrators carry flags during a protest against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar on April 27, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS, BANGKOK (REUTERS, AFP) - Myanmar has spiraled into civil war following the military coup, the outgoing United Nnations special envoy on Myanmar said on Thursday (Oct 21), warning that the chance to return to democracy is disappearing and signaling that further targeted sanctions could be helpful.

Ms Christine Schraner Burgener, who is stepping down after more than three-and-a-half years in the role, told the UN General Assembly in June that there was a real risk of large-scale civil war after the military seized power on Feb 1, detaining Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected government leaders.

When asked on Thursday if there was now a civil war, she said: "In the international law terminology we use internal armed conflict and I would use this terminology now."

She said it was "very important" that governments and the UN do not signal any acceptance of the junta and that the will of the people - who voted a year ago to elect Ms Suu Kyi's government - was protected.

The United Nations is faced with rival claims on who will sit in Myanmar's seat at the world body. A decision by member states is due to be made by the end of the year on whether the junta and or current Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, appointed by the elected government, should represent the country in New York.

Ms Schraner Burgener said the military had "no interest in compromise or in a dialogue" and that "the opportunity to help put Myanmar back on the path to democracy, democratic reform is narrowing and therefore I urge the member states to act". The United States, Britain and others have imposed sanctions on the military rulers for the coup and repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

Ms Schraner Burgener suggested that if more states also imposed targeted measures that could have an effect.

She said her assessment was that the people of Myanmar would continue to resist the coup and many were writing to her: "We would rather like to die than to accept a new military dictatorship."

Myanmar's junta has also re-arrested more than 100 anti-coup protesters freed in a recent amnesty, according to a local monitoring group that tracks detentions and killings in the country.

On Monday, the military announced it would free more than 5,000 people over the three-day Buddhist Thadingyut festival, sending anxious families rushing to jails in the hope of being reunited with their loved ones.

The true number of those released across the country is difficult to verify, and many were freed only after signing documents promising not to re-offend. At least 110 of those pardoned have since been re-arrested, according to the AAPP.

"Some were... re-arrested as soon as they arrived home," it said in a statement Thursday. "Some others were told they were on the released list, taken to the jail entrance, only to be taken back to prison in the face of additional charges."

The Myanmar authorities released more than 2,000 anti-coup protesters from prisons across the country in June, including journalists critical of the military government. Those still in custody include the American journalist Danny Fenster, who has been held since being arrested on May 24.

The most recent amnesty comes with the military under increasing pressure to engage with its opponents, nearly nine months after seizing power.

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