UN rights chief urges ASEAN to move on Myanmar dialogue

FILE PHOTO: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a news conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights official called on ASEAN countries on Wednesday to launch a political dialogue with the military junta and the democratically-elected leadership in Myanmar, with support from the international community.

The United Nations must be allowed to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians in Myanmar, as agreed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), without it being "instrumentalised" by the military, Michelle Bachelet said.

Myanmar has been in crisis since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government on Feb. 1, unleashing nationwide anger that quickly turned into protests and strikes brutally suppressed by security forces.

The ASEAN bloc agreed a five-point consensus with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in April, "but unfortunately the Myanmar military leadership have shown little sign of abiding by it", Bachelet told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"It is urgent for ASEAN to appoint a special envoy or team to get some kind of political dialogue underway. I encourage ASEAN to engage with the democratic leadership and civil society, not just the military front," Bachelet said.

"It will be important to deliver aid through civil society structures as much as possible and in consultation with the democratic opposition," she added.

Nearly 900 people have been killed since the coup, while at least 5,200 remain unlawfully detained, Bachelet told the Geneva forum on Tuesday at the start of a two-day debate.

At least 93 journalists have been arrested, at least 44 of whom remain in detention, including foreign correspondents, Bachelet said on Wednesday.

"Eight major Myanmar media outlets have had their licenses revoked by the military, many journalists have had no option but to seek safety outside of the country," she said.

Bachelet, a former president of Chile, urged countries to support independent media and civil society and "help them find channels to get information out" of Myanmar.

"There can be no sustainable solution to the crisis without a fundamental change in the military's role and full civilian control of the military," she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Boyle and Paul Simao)

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