Close to becoming a failed state

You are being watched: Police officers patrolling in a truck in downtown Yangon. — AFP

THE United Nations special envoy for Myanmar has warned that February’s military takeover has led to armed conflict and if power is not returned to the people in a democratic way, the country “will go in the direction of a failed state”.Christine Schraner Burgener told a UN news conference on Thursday that conflict between the military, which took power on Feb 1, and civilians and ethnic minorities was intensifying across the country.

“The military’s repression has led to over 1,180 deaths,” she said.

“The army uses a range of tactics against civilian populations, including burning villages, looting properties, mass arrests, torture and execution of prisoners, gender-based violence and random artillery fire into residential areas.”

Schraner Burgener said the military was conducting clearing operations in Chin and several other states and there was continued fighting in Kachin and Shan states, “so all over the country we have a huge scale of violence.”

She said the situation was reminiscent of the pattern of operations that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, used against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state in 1997. The Rohingya were first targeted by security forces in 1997-98 and over 700,000 fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017.

Schraner Burgener said the movement against the military was now “increasingly militarised”, with the so-called National Unity Government formed by supporters of the ousted democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi seeking to mobilise a greater number of Peoples Defence Forces and calling for “a people’s defence war”.

Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.

As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country.The military takeover earlier this year followed November elections, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won overwhelmingly and the military contests as fraudulent.

Schraner Burgener warned that “the overall situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate sharply”.

She said “power must be returned to the people in a democratic way”, but the military did not respond to her proposal for an inclusive national dialogue and appeared intent on continuing its operations.In the past, the Tatmadaw would use violence against ethnic armed groups or against the Rohingya but not against the Buddhist Bamar ethnic majority, but that was happening now on a large scale in the central part of the country, she said.

She would not call the current situation a civil war as that is not “international legal terminology” but “an internal armed conflict”.

“If this situation will continue, then I would say we would have a full-blown internal armed conflict,” she added.

She said the number of displaced people had increased from 370,000 to 589,000 since the military takeover, the number of people needing humanitarian aid had jumped from one million to three million, and the health system and banking system had collapsed.

But unlike the coup in 1998 when people were killed or put in prison or gave up, and the Tatmadaw took over and conducted business as usual, “people will, in my view, not give up” now, she said.

“The people continue to resist. They will not go back to work. They will continue to use violence.”

Every day, she added, she received messages from people on the ground saying they “would rather like to die than to accept a new military dictatorship”.

As for recognition of the military, she said the General Assembly credentials committee, which will meet in November, will decide whether it takes over Myanmar’s UN seat now held by the ambassador appointed by Suu Kyi’s government.“We want to respect the will of the people,” she said. — AP

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