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Former UN Chief: ‘Fleeting Window’ of Opportunity to Resolve Myanmar Crisis

FILE - Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, September 24, 2019.
FILE - Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, September 24, 2019.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the bloodshed in Myanmar on Monday, urging the U.N. Security Council and regional bloc ASEAN to take immediate and concerted action to prevent “ongoing atrocities” and a further escalation of violence.

“I condemn the brutal use of lethal force against civilians, and the detention of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, as well as thousands of protesters,” Ban told a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council, which focused on cooperation between the U.N. and regional organizations like ASEAN.

Myanmar has been mired in chaos and violence since the military rejected November’s election results and overthrew the civilian government February 1. They have detained de facto leader Suu Kyi and other high-ranking officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party. Rights groups say more than 700 civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed on the streets and in their homes in the military crackdown on protests.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister and currently a member of The Elders, helped guide Myanmar onto the path of democracy during his tenure as U.N. chief. He said he is continuing to seek a solution to the crisis, having reached out to the military for permission to visit the country, but his request was rejected.

“The task ahead is daunting,” Ban said. “It will require the collective, coordinated efforts of the U.N., ASEAN and the wider region to avert catastrophe and instead help return Myanmar to the path of a peaceful, democratic transition.” He said those bodies have only a “fleeting window” to cooperate through strong action to halt the violence.

He called on his U.N. successor, Antonio Guterres, to directly engage with Myanmar’s military to prevent a further escalation of violence.

Ban said ASEAN needs to unify its response to the situation and stop using its policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of sovereign states to justify inaction in the face of abuses.

“ASEAN must make it clear to the Myanmar military that the current situation is so grave that it cannot be regarded only as an internal matter,” Ban said. “The military’s use of lethal force, and the gross violations of human rights being perpetrated against the civilians, are not compatible with the ASEAN Charter. These actions are clear violations of international law and constitute a threat to the peace, security and stability of the region.”

The regional bloc plans to hold a special summit on Myanmar April 24 in Indonesia. Ban said they must take “immediate and concerted action,” including sending a high-level delegation to Myanmar to engage with the parties.

He also appealed to the U.N. Security Council to move beyond words to collective action.

“This council has a responsibility to protect Myanmar’s civilian population in the context where the atrocities being committed may constitute crimes against humanity,” he said.

He urged the 15-nation council to use all the tools at its disposal. Typically, that would include targeted international sanctions and an arms embargo — two things the council has so far shied away from attempting because they would face strong pushback from China, which holds a veto on the council.

Beijing’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, participated in the virtual high-level council meeting and signaled his government’s dislike of such measures. He reiterated China’s long-standing position against sanctions and rejected the threat of use of force, saying peace talks and mediation are always preferable. Wang also urged nations to respect the sovereignty of other states and not interfere in their domestic affairs.

“Under the current circumstances, supporting ASEAN’s constructive participation in Myanmar’s domestic reconciliation process in an ASEAN way and de-escalating tensions in Myanmar serve the interests of the people of Myanmar and the international community,” Wang said of that crisis.

The United States said the Security Council is awaiting the outcome of the upcoming ASEAN summit on Myanmar.

Current U.N. secretary-general Guterres urged regional actors to leverage their influence to prevent further deterioration and find a peaceful resolution. He said his special envoy is in the region and ready to resume dialogue with the military and other stakeholders to return Myanmar to the democratic path, and to peace and stability.

Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener’s request to visit Myanmar was also rejected by the junta. She has been in Thailand and hopes to meet with some of Myanmar’s neighbors to break the paralysis.