UN special envoy calls for ceasefire in Myanmar

yhheyzer - Dr Noeleen Heyzer speaking at the second of her three-part lecture series on Singapore and Multilateral Governance: Securing Our Future, which is under the Institute of Policy Studies-Nathan Lecture Series. The question-and-answer segment was m
Dr Noeleen Heyzer urged all parties to act in the greater interest of the nation and to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

BANGKOK - The new United Nations special envoy on Myanmar, Dr Noeleen Heyzer, on Monday (Dec 27) expressed concern about the escalating violence in Myanmar and called for a new year's ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian aid.

In her first official statement since assuming the position two weeks ago, Dr Heyzer called for the halt of hostilities "throughout Myanmar".

She urged all parties to "act in the greater interest of the nation and to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians, ensure free movement towards safety when needed, and allow humanitarian assistance to be provided to those in need, including those forced to flee the violence".

Her comments came after a particularly deadly Christmas weekend as the Myanmar military intensifies its crackdown on people resisting its unpopular Feb 1 coup.

On Saturday, more than 30 charred bodies were found in the eastern state of Kayah, where armed groups have been battling the junta's troops.

Local media and human rights group say that children, women and the elderly fleeing the conflict were among those detained and killed.

International aid organisation Save the Children said two of its staff were missing after being caught up in the incident. Their private vehicle had been attacked and burned out.

Burnt vehicles are seen in Hpruso township in Kayah state, Myanmar, on Dec 25, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths on Sunday condemned the "grievous incident" and urged a swift investigation.

In neighbouring Kayin state, fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic Karen guerillas caused thousands of villagers to flee across the border into Thailand over the past week.

The exodus prompted humanitarian aid groups to urge Thailand to keep its borders open to those seeking refuge and let aid groups assist those in need.

Thailand's foreign ministry spokesman, Mr Tanee Sangrat, said on Monday that the government was working closely with the UN's refugee agency "to share assessments and planning should the need arise where Thai authorities are unable to manage the situation themselves".

"At present, various protection and other needs are being met by our inter-agency task force and we will continue to monitor the volatile situation along our border, to address a number of concerns there, from Covid-19 to trafficking to humanitarian concerns such as this one," he said.

Dr Heyzer noted in her statement on Monday that the growing violence in Myanmar has already displaced "hundreds of thousands of civilians, including women and children, many seeking refuge across borders for protection and assistance, while many more are trapped within the country".

She added that she had been "actively consulting all stakeholders with a view to supporting a Myanmar-led process" and "will continue to focus on mobilising coherent international support grounded on regional unity".

The junta led by military chief Min Aung Hlaing claims that last year's general election won by the National League for Democracy party was tainted by massive fraud.

While promising fresh elections by 2023, it has heaped what critics see as spurious charges against ousted members of the civilian government, including state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Detained in an undisclosed location since the coup, she is currently serving a two-year sentence for incitement and for breaching Covid-19 regulations.

On Monday, a Myanmar court postponed to Jan 10 its verdict on cases related to her alleged possession of illegal walkie-talkies.

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