Forever ‘engaging’ the Tatmadaw?

No end to learning: Children from Pu Phar village, displaced after fighting between the military and members of the People’s Defense Force, attend a school lesson under a makeshift structure at their refuge in the jungle near Demoso, Kayah state, Myanmar. – AFP

THE suffering of millions of our neighbors in Myanmar is fading from our radar, as the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan has raised fears of homegrown terrorists and lone wolves.

Amid a third wave of Covid-19, tens of thousands of people in Myanmar have fled to jungles, reports say, seeking safety from repeated news of gruesome attacks on civilians.

From the coup of Feb 1 to July alone 1,000 were killed, including more than 75 children. More than one million of the persecuted Rohingya minority are seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

The “full-scale revolt” by the “People’s Defense Forces” or local militias endorsed by the elected National Unity Government is claimed to be the last resort in the face of continued attacks and alleged massacres by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military), “even in places where people have never seen armed conflict”, activist Khin Omar said, apart from air strikes in areas long controlled by ethnic group-run armies.

From Indonesia’s experience, the days of fear will continue as long as the rulers retain a fairly respectful place on the world stage.

The “non-interference” creed of Asean has served those in power very well, at the cost of too many human rights violations to mention in Indonesia’s past.

Present Indonesian leaders are of the more enlightened Reform Era; Retno LP Marsudi being perhaps the world’s busiest foreign minister, lobbying here and there to try to politely remind a fellow Asean member that burning homes, schools, hospitals, raping women and shooting children is no longer acceptable behavior of security forces, whether against a detested minority or the general populace.

People in Aceh and Papua would know how effective such politeness is: hardly. Such crimes have largely stopped but too few have answered for them. We can argue our security forces were never as brutal as the Tatmadaw, but mostly quiet survivors may find it hard to tell the difference. Most will remain silent until there is enough safe space to speak up.

For people of Myanmar today, the safest spot to voice their grievances and hopes is their nation’s official seat at the United Nations. But even the envoy faces threats to his life, New York police said.

As the UN General Assembly opened on Tuesday, Myanmar’s ambassador whom the junta has fired was reportedly still working under full protection following the detention of two men charged with plotting to kill or injure him.

The military junta has charged Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun with high treason. He earlier appealed for action to stop the military’s impunity and had displayed the rebellious three-finger salute in support of the NUG.

The junta has put forward military veteran Aung Thurein to be its UN envoy, while Kyaw has asked to renew his UN accreditation

What the international community can do in the least, activists say, is to recognise Kyaw as the country’s UN envoy on behalf of the NUG, representing parliamentarians who won votes in the election that the military say was fraudulent. No one wants a return to the decades of dictatorship and popular resistance continues, while at least 400 doctors and 180 nurses have been arrested along with thousands of others including around 55 media workers.

UN accreditation issues are dealt with by a nine-member committee, whose members include the US, China and Russia. It traditionally meets in October or November.

Until a decision is made by the credentials committee, it has been decided that Kyaw can remain in the seats, as long as he doesn’t speak at the General Assembly rules.

Still, many are asking for a longer-term recognition.

“Please raise your voice to your governments” to recognise the NUG and Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, a founder of the Women’s League of Burma, Khin Omar, told a recent webinar held by the Bangkok-based SEA Junction.

Top UN officials, Asean parliamentarians and activists have frequently appealed to cut off the junta’s access to finances and refer it to the International Criminal Court.

Hopes of momentary peace, raised by Asean special envoy for Myanmar Eryawan Yusof, were dashed as the Tatmadaw denied it had accepted his proposal for a four-month ceasefire to enable aid distribution.

Our diplomats’ hard work may be going up in smoke — with images of burning Asean flags on the streets of the main cities, Yangon and Mandalay, reflecting widespread distrust in Asean.

In one area 20 soldiers were killed by “people’s defense forces” and in two other separate attacks they blew up 11 military-owned Mytel telecommunication company towers.

The latest hope lies in the potential candidate for the new UN special envoy to Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, a former UN under secretary-general who became familiar with the Tatmadaw in the Rohingya crisis.

However, the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing has shown to be “unpredictable”, opined the Irrawaddy magazine.

Asean should also “stop wasting time on Myanmar” and directly engage with the NUG, wrote Marzuki Darusman in The Jakarta Post on July 31.

The founding member of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar and Indonesia’s former attorney general had previously chaired the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar that investigated human rights violations against the Rohingya.

Reading the team’s conclusion in 2018, Marzuki said that Gen Min Aung Hlaing should be investigated for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Yet the West has nevertheless dumped the Myanmar problem on Asean. The Asean Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Center) is seen as the only viable body in the region to deliver aid to fleeing residents. However, analysts say the AHA Center is more equipped for natural disasters; it delivered aid as soon as it could to affected areas of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar back in 2008 and deployed resources in 2017 following the displacement of inhabitants of Rakhine state.

There is no way the AHA Center can be independent of the junta, an August report by NGOs argues, as its own rules show it answers to the national “Requesting or Receiving Party” which “shall exercise the overall direction, control, coordination and supervision of the assistance within its territory”.

Until 2020 initial preparations by the center to repatriate the Rohingya had perhaps unwittingly endorsed the national policy, which does not recognize the Muslim minority as citizens. The nation’s citizenship law effectively gives the ethnic and religious minority second class status, thus justifying violence and oppression against them by the military and extremist Buddhists.

Alarmingly for the Rohingnya, the military released on Sept 6 the monk Ashin Wirathu whom Facebook banned for his hate campaigns against the Rohingnya.

Similar to Marzuki’s appeal, the report by Forum Asia and Progressive Voice says the international community should channel aid through the Covid-19 task force jointly established by the NUG, ethnic health organisations and local humanitarian networks.

Retno admits progress is “slow” mainly on Asean’s commitments of humanitarian aid for Myanmar. “Engaging” the junta may be inevitable as the minister said, but the Tatmadaw has all too often trampled on its apparent agreements.

If the outside world thinks no one is really running the country, hundreds of thousands of civil servants who joined the nationwide strike to support the NUG, Khin Omar said, “are ready to resume work” as soon as possible.

Continued “engagement” with the Tatmadaw will make the murderous regime look much more respectful than South Africa’s past apartheid government. — The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

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