UN Security Council agrees to condemn Myanmar violence, urge military restraint

Demonstrators setup a barricade during a protest in Yangon, on March 8, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The UN Security Council on Wednesday (March 10) condemned violence against Myanmar protesters and called on the army to show restraint, but failed to denounce the military takeover as a coup or threaten further action due to opposition from China and Russia.

Myanmar has been in crisis since the army ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government in a Feb 1 coup, detained her and officials of her National League for Democracy party and set up a ruling junta of generals.

The military complained of fraud in a November election. The election commission said the vote was fair.

The United Nations Security Council said in a statement that it "strongly condemns" the violence against peaceful protesters, including against women, youth and children.

"The council calls for the military to exercise utmost restraint and emphasizes that it is following the situation closely."

But language that would have condemned the coup and threatened possible further action was removed from the British-drafted text, due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.

A junta spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the Security Council statement would push the military to realise it "is absolutely essential" that all prisoners are released and that the results of a November election are respected.

The council also expresses deep concern at restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, labour union members, journalists and media workers, and "calls for the immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily."

More than 60 people have been killed and some 1,800 people detained in a crackdown on daily protests against the coup around the south-east Asian nation, an advocacy group has said.

Dozens of journalists are among those arrested.

The council statement "expresses its continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar, and stresses the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law."

The negotiations over the text, which began after a closed briefing on Friday, signalled that the council could struggle to do much more on Myanmar.

Russia and China, who are council veto powers along with the United States, France and Britain, have traditionally shielded Myanmar from any strong council action.

An initial draft of Wednesday's statement, seen by Reuters, condemned the military coup and said the council was ready "to consider possible further measures," which is generally seen as code for sanctions.

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, March 10, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

But diplomats said Russia, China, India and Vietnam all proposed amendments and that language was dropped.

An independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar and New York-based Human Rights Watch have called on the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the junta.

Security Council efforts on Myanmar were limited to two statements after a 2017 military crackdown sent hundreds of thousands Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh and led to UN accusations of ethnic cleansing, which the army denied.

In a statement to the press days after the coup, the council expressed concern over the state of emergency imposed by the Myanmar military and called for the release of all those detained.

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