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UN Envoy Calls for Myanmar Junta Chief to Step Down 


FILE - A protester holds a placard with a crossed- out face of Myanmar's commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, during an anti-coup rally in front of the Myanmar Economic Bank in Mandalay, Feb. 15, 2021.

The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar called Friday for that country’s military leader to step down and return power seized in a February 1 coup to the democratically elected government.

“I do not see a stable nor viable future for Myanmar under the leadership of the commander-in-chief and the Tatmadaw,” Christine Schraner Burgener told the U.N. General Assembly committee that deals with human rights issues.

FILE - U.N. Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener arrives at Sittwe airport, in Rakhine State, Oct. 15, 2018.
FILE - U.N. Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener arrives at Sittwe airport, in Rakhine State, Oct. 15, 2018.

“If Senior General Min Aung Hlaing truly cares about his country’s future, he must step down and hand the Tatmadaw’s power over to the civilian government in line with the will of the people,” she added.

The Tatmadaw is Myanmar’s military.

Schraner Burgener made the appeal in her final U.N. briefing. She will step down on October 31, after 3½ years in the post.

Headed for ‘the abyss’

She has spent the last nine months dealing with the fallout from the military coup, which has mired Myanmar in chaos and violence. More than 1,100 civilians have been killed, thousands jailed and more than 250,000 displaced.

The Tatmadaw claimed widespread fraud in the November 2020 election, which de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. The military then detained Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other high-ranking NLD officials and began cracking down on initially peaceful demonstrations.

The military has ignored international pressure to reverse the situation, and conditions have steadily deteriorated. Violence has spread across the country, and the NLD’s National Unity Government has formed its own People’s Defense Force.

“Myanmar is rapidly moving towards the abyss, and whatever sacrifice would be required of us now to pull it in a different direction will be a small price in relation to the monumental challenge we will be facing a few years down the line,” the special envoy said Friday.

Before the coup, 1 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance. Since February that number has skyrocketed to 3 million. Health and banking services are collapsing and joblessness is on the rise.

FILE - People queue up to receive food donations in a camp for displaced people in Namkham township in Shan state, Myanmar, June 7, 2021.
FILE - People queue up to receive food donations in a camp for displaced people in Namkham township in Shan state, Myanmar, June 7, 2021.

Eve of ‘another catastrophe’

Separately, the U.N. independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, told the same U.N. committee that another “catastrophe” is imminent.

“I have received credible information that the junta is moving tens of thousands of troops and heavy weaponry into the northwest region of the country, ostensibly preparing to attack these local defense forces,” Andrews said.

He said internet service has been cut to the area and the military is employing tactics similar to those it used in its 2016 and 2017 attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

“We should all be prepared, as the people of this part of Myanmar are prepared, for more mass atrocity crimes,” the special rapporteur said.

He said that since the February coup, the military “has engaged in probable crimes against humanity and war crimes.” He also criticized opposition forces for what he said is evidence of human rights violations, including assassinations and indiscriminate killings of noncombatants.

Andrews urged the international community to deny the Tatmadaw money, weapons and recognition, while continuing to send humanitarian assistance to the people.

FILE - This screen grab of a handout video made available on the U.N. YouTube channel shows Myanmar's ambassador to the U.N., Kyaw Moe Tun, at an informal meeting of the General Assembly in New York, Feb. 26, 2021.
FILE - This screen grab of a handout video made available on the U.N. YouTube channel shows Myanmar's ambassador to the U.N., Kyaw Moe Tun, at an informal meeting of the General Assembly in New York, Feb. 26, 2021.

Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, was appointed by the NLD government.

The junta has sought to replace him at the world body, and next month the nine-member committee that makes decisions on representation at the United Nations is likely to take up the issue. In the meantime, Kyaw Moe Tun continues to speak for the Myanmar people.

“In the eyes of the people of Myanmar, the military is more like an occupying force, not a protector of the people like it’s supposed to be,” he said.

He said the people did not want to resort to violence but had to defend themselves, because the Tatmadaw is “terrorizing people into submission.” He said Myanmar’s people do not want to return to life under a dictatorship.

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