Washington seeks action from UN on Myanmar junta

US also urging international community against recognising polls planned by regime

NEW YORK - The United States is seeking to pile more pressure on Myanmar's junta through the United Nations and is urging the international community not to recognise upcoming elections, a senior official said on Thursday.

"There is wide acknowledgement that the regime needs to feel more pressure," State Department counsellor Derek Chollet, who is leading US diplomacy on Myanmar during the annual UN General Assembly, told AFP.

He pointed to outrage over an air strike in September that killed 11 school children as well as the execution in July of four prominent activists by the junta, which threw out the elected government in February 2021, ending a decade-long experiment in democracy.

Mr Chollet said he has had talks both with other governments and with representatives of the National Unity Government - dominated by ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party - and held a virtual meeting with armed ethnic groups inside the country.

He said he also spoke with other nations about a Security Council resolution although the effort was in "the very early stages" with specifics not yet clear.

"We think we have to be realistic as on all issues about how far Russia and China are willing to let the Council take action," he said, referring to the veto-wielding allies of Myanmar's military.

"We think it's important to try." Mr Chollet said he also conveyed to other governments that "we shouldn't lend any sense of credibility" to elections the junta plans for August 2023.

"I told them that we see no chance that these elections could be free and fair, given the fact that the regime doesn't control as much as half the territory, you've got political prisoners being locked up and killed, and Aung San Suu Kyi basically in isolation and no one has seen her for 20 months," Mr Chollet said.

Earlier on Thursday, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in Myanmar, Mr Thomas Andrews, warned that the planned elections would be "fraud".

The US has imposed a series of sanctions, including targeting junta leaders, since the coup.

But it has held off on one step urged by activists, targeting Myanmar's oil and gas industry, amid opposition from ally Thailand which imports energy from its South-east Asian neighbour.

Separately, Asean has unsuccessfully sought to broker a diplomatic way out of the crisis with the generals and some US partners, notably Myanmar's neighbour India, have hesitated over taking tough action.

The US has also announced more than US$170 million (S$241 million) in additional humanitarian assistance for Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, including those outside the country such as in Bangladesh, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

"With this new funding, our total assistance in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis has reached nearly US$1.9 billion since August 2017, when over 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to safety in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh," Mr Blinken said in a statement.

The assistance comes about a month after the UN refugee agency said that the funding to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh was "well short of needs".

More than a million Rohingya are living in squalid camps in Bangladesh comprising the world's largest refugee settlement.

The new round of US humanitarian assistance includes more than US$93 million through the State Department and more than US$77 million through the US Agency for International Development, Mr Blinken said.

AFP, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2022, with the headline Washington seeks action from UN on Myanmar junta. Subscribe