NEW YORK: An “urgent” international response is needed to prevent the crisis in Myanmar from becoming a “catastrophe” in the heart of Southeast Asia and beyond, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned. In a report sent to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, the UN chief also said he feared that the military’s grip on power would become increasingly difficult to counter.
The country has been in protracted crisis since Myanmar’s military leadership ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.
It claimed with little evidence that the general election her party won last November in a landslide, was marred by voter fraud.
The takeover sparked widespread street protests, which were violently supressed by military and security forces.
More than 1,100 people dead, and over 8000 arrested and at least 120 who have reportedly died in custody, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
“The risk of a large-scale armed conflict requires a collective approach to prevent a multi-dimensional catastrophe in the heart of Southeast Asia and beyond”, the Secretary-General said.
“Grave humanitarian implications, including rapidly deteriorating food security, an increase in mass displacements and a weakened public health system compounded by a new wave of COVID-19 infections, require a coordinated approach in complementarity with regional actors.”
To put “Myanmar back on the path to democratic reform,”, it was “urgent to mount a unified international and regional response,” said the UN chief, calling again for the immediate release of President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other Government officials, detained after the military takeover.
‘Respect the will of the people’
Mr. Guterres said it was imperative to restore Myanmar’s constitutional order and uphold the results of the November 2020 election.
He suggested neighbouring countries could leverage their influence over the military to have it “respect the will of the people and to act in the greater interest of peace and stability in the country and region.”
The risk of a large-scale armed conflict requires a collective approach to prevent a multi-dimensional catastrophe in the heart of Southeast Asia and beyond – UN Secretary-General
He also called for “immediate humanitarian access and assistance, especially to vulnerable communities”, including some 600,000 Rohingya Muslims still in northern Rakhine state and the more than 700,000 who fled a 2017 military crackdown and are now in camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The window to prevent the military from entrenching its rule “could be narrowing” Mr. Guterres continued, before insisting that it was important to support “the democratic aspirations of the people of Myanmar”.
The report, covering the period from mid-August 2020 to mid-August 2021, was approved by 119 countries, with 36 abstaining, including China, and one, Belarus, voting against it.
In the report, Mr. Guterres welcomed the appointment of Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof in August as Special Envoy to Myanmar, by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, and called for “timely and comprehensive implementation” of the UN-backed five-point plan “to facilitate a peaceful solution”, and urged the regional grouping to work with the UN’s own Special Envoy to Myanmar.
The plan, adopted by ASEAN, reportedly calls for an end to violence, constructive dialogue, the appointment of an envoy to direct mediation efforts, and a humanitarian aid package.