UN chief tells Myanmar junta to get democracy ‘back on track’

An empty chair for Myanmar's delegate during a meeting of Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly representatives in Phnom Penh on Nov 10. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH – United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Saturday urged Myanmar’s junta to immediately return to democracy, saying it is the only way to stop the “unending nightmare” engulfing Myanmar.

Myanmar has spiralled into a bloody conflict since the military ousted democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in February 2021, with thousands already killed.

The escalating crisis dominated a summit of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), which has led so far fruitless diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed.

“The situation in Myanmar is an unending nightmare for the people and a threat to peace and security across the region,” Mr Guterres told reporters.

“I urge the authorities of Myanmar to listen to their people, release political prisoners and get the democratic transition back on track immediately,” he said. “That is the only way to stability and peace.”

After meeting Asean leaders, Mr Guterres said it was vital that a peace plan agreed with the junta – but so far not enforced – came into effect. “Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are horrendous and heartbreaking,” he said.

Junta troops have been accused of killing and arson sprees in central, northern and eastern Myanmar, as they struggle to crush opposition to military rule.

The junta has previously accused “terrorist” anti-coup fighters of setting the fires.

US to ask Asean to do more

Asean and the junta agreed on a “five-point consensus” in April 2021 aimed at ending the chaos in Myanmar. But the junta has ignored that plan.

Increasingly frustrated Asean leaders on Friday tasked their foreign ministers with coming up with a concrete plan to implement the consensus.

They also gave their blessing to an Asean special envoy meeting opposition groups in Myanmar – a move that drew a furious response from the junta, which regards dissidents as terrorists.

Western powers have heaped sanctions on the junta, but violence has escalated in recent weeks, with deadly military air strikes on civilian targets, including a school and a concert.

United States President Joe Biden is expected to use talks with Asean leaders later on Saturday to urge them to keep pushing the junta to end the violence.

Mr Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the president would “discuss how we can coordinate more closely to continue to impose costs and raise pressure on the junta”.

The junta has justified its power grab by alleging fraud in the December 2020 General Election, which Ms Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.

The generals have pledged to hold elections in 2023, but the US and the UN’s special rapporteur for Myanmar have said there is no chance of it being free and fair. BLOOMBERG

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