Civil war possible, warns UN envoy

The UN special envoy for Myanmar warned of possible civil war in the country, saying people were arming themselves against the military junta and protesters had started shifting from defensive to offensive actions, using homemade weapons and training from some ethnic armed groups.

Christine Schraner Burgener (pic) told a virtual UN news conference on Monday that people were starting self-defence actions because they were frustrated and feared attacks by the military, which carried out a coup on Feb 1 against Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government, and was using “a huge scale of violence”.

A civil war “could happen”, she said, and that is why for the past three weeks from her base now in Thailand, she has discussed with many key parties the idea of starting an inclusive dialogue that would include ethnic armed groups, political parties, civil society, strike committees and the army, known as the Tatmadaw, as well as a small group of witnesses from the international community.

“Clearly it will not be easy to convince both sides to come to the table, but I offer my good offices... to avoid more bloodshed and civil war which would last a long time, ” Schraner Burgener said.

“We are worried about the situation and clearly we want that people on the ground... to decide how they want to see the country going back to normal.”

Calling the situation in Myanmar “very bad”, she pointed to more than 800 people killed, over 5,300 arrested and more than 1,800 arrest warrants issued by the military.

Schraner Burgener also cited reports of unconfirmed deaths, injuries and damage to houses and civilian property in the town of Mindat in western Chin State, where the junta declared martial law because of armed resistance to military rule.

Meanwhile, an American editor of a Myanmar-based news outlet was detained by the authorities in Yangon on Monday as he attempted to board a flight out of the coup-hit country, his employers said.

United States citizen and managing editor of Frontier Myanmar Danny Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport, the outlet said in a statement on its verified Twitter account.

The US State Department said it was “aware of reports” of the arrest.

“We take seriously our responsibility to assist US citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation, ” a spokesman said, while declining to provide further details for privacy reasons.

The press has been caught in the crackdown as the junta tries to tighten control over the flow of information, throttling Internet access and revoking the licences of local media outlets.

“We do not know why Danny was detained and have not been able to contact him since this morning. We are concerned for his well-being and call for his immediate release, ” Frontier said in a tweet.

“Our priorities right now are to make sure he is safe and to provide him with whatever assistance he needs.”

Fenster, 37, had been working for the outlet for around a year and was heading home to see his family, said Frontier’s chief editor Thomas Kean.The outlet had learnt at around 10am on Monday that Fenster had not been allowed to board his flight from Yangon, he added.

In a message shared with AFP, Fenster’s brother Bryan said the family was “stunned and extremely confused” by the detention.

“We’ve been assured that there is no concern for his safety but no doubt we are very worried, ” he said. At least 34 journalists and photographers remain in custody across Myanmar, according to monitoring group Reporting Asean. — Agencies

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