By Robin Gomes
Six months after seizing power in a coup, Myanmar’s military leaders are now trying to legitimize their grip on power, the United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar said on Tuesday.
Christine Schraner Burgener also said the situation in Myanmar “is still very worrisome”, amid a “severe” third wave of Covid-19 infections. Addressing reporters at a video press conference organized in New York, she gave an overall view of the critical situation in the country.
The political crisis unleashed by the 1 February coup took a new turn when junta leader senior army general Min Aung Hlaing on 1 August declared himself Prime Minister, pledging to hold elections by 2023. He thus annulled the election of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).
Solidifying grip on power
“In my view, the Commander-in-Chief appears determined to solidify his grip on power with the latest caretaker government announcement; also, with the formal annulment of the election result from last year and declaration of the Commander-in-Chief to be Prime Minister of the country,” the UN envoy said, speaking from Bern, Switzerland.
Burgener also expressed fear that the National League of Democracy (NLD), which won the November 2020 election, could also soon be forcibly disbanded.
“This is an attempt to promote legitimacy against lack of international action taken,” she said. “And I have to make (it) clear that the UN does not recognize Governments, so it’s up to the Member States.”
UN still recognizes Suu Kyi’s government
The UN envoy underlined that as long as UN Member States do not make any decision, Myanmar’s Permanent Representative in New York, Kyaw Moe Tun, remains the country’s legitimate UN Ambassador, while Suu Kyi and President Myint are its leaders at the world body.
She expressed shock at the news of an alleged plot to kill or injure Ambassador Tun, who has denounced the coup at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Violence, IDPs, pandemic
The situation on the ground in Myanmar remains “very difficult”, she reported. “There is no freedom of speech, and I have still grave concerns about attacks against the free press,” she said, adding she has always urged “the army to release political prisoners, including many media workers.”
Up to Tuesday, she said, 962 people have been killed since the protest began following the coup. Another 7,082 have been arrested, including foreigners, 5,526 are still detained, including 104 children.
Meanwhile, clashes between the army and local defense forces continue. Violence has risen, and the defense groups are increasingly using “professional weapons”. This widening conflict, including with armed ethnic groups, has driven a large number of people from their homes.
At the same time, people are reeling under a “severe third wave of Covid-19 in Myanmar”. “Entire families are falling sick with Covid-19, with relatives desperately struggling to access treatment, emergency oxygen and other supplies, while prices have skyrocketed.”
With many doctors and healthcare workers joining the civil disobedience movement, the military-controlled Health Ministry is unable to provide even the most basic healthcare in many places. Many loathe or are suspicious of the Ministry’s services.
Burgener said UN agencies and its partners are working for the resumption of health assistance, with priority given to vaccine rollout through the global solidarity initiative, COVAX, and to revitalizing immunizations generally.
UN’s effort towards dialogue
Burgener said she is continuing her engagement to find a peaceful solution to the political crisis in Myanmar, although she has yet to be allowed to travel there.
The UN Special Envoy has been holding talks with the military, ethnic armed organizations, and other stakeholders, who include the National Unity Government (NUG), formed by exiled lawmakers ousted in the coup. Representatives come from the NLD, other parties and ethnic armed groups.
Burgner said she really hopes that dialogue really takes place “to avoid a breakout of full-scale civil war”. (Source: UN)