UN pushes world powers to 'reverse' Myanmar’s coup

Russia and China are resisting calls for sanctions and an arms embargo on the junta

YANGON, MYANMAR - MARCH 05: Anti-coup protesters block a street in preparation for clashes with military and police on March 05, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar. Protests continue to erupt across the country, to be met with deadly force by the military junta. The military government has intensified a crackdown on protesters using tear gas and live ammunition, charging at and arresting protesters and journalists. At least 50 people have been killed so far, according to monitoring organizations. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
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The UN’s envoy to Myanmar on Friday urged major world powers to help “reverse” last month’s military coup after another day of peaceful protests was broken up by tear gas and gunfire in the South-East Asian nation.

Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN envoy to Myanmar, called for a “robust” international response to the junta’s power grab and called for the release of detained opposition leaders at closed-door UN Security Council talks.

The 15-nation body met after another day of deadly crackdowns at rallies across Myanmar, growing international anger towards the junta and new US sanctions on military conglomerates in the country.

“I have heard directly the desperate pleas — from mothers, students and the elderly — I receive every day around 2,000 messages for international action to reverse a clear assault on the will of the people of Myanmar,” said Ms Burgener.

“We must be robust and timely in pushing for a stop to the violence and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic institutions.”

The UN envoy described military snipers picking off peaceful protesters and troops shooting indiscriminately into crowds. About 50 people have been killed, many more have been injured and 1,000 have been detained, said Ms Burgener.

Meanwhile, Myanmar's people are emptying ATMs as factories shut down and remittances dry up, leading to an economic "state of sepsis" as the country lunges towards a humanitarian crisis, she said.

“Let us never forget that many of the problems in Myanmar previously taken up by the Security Council came about under almost half a century of military leadership and isolation at the expense of the people,” said Ms Burgener.

“It is our collective obligation to defend the defenceless.”

While the UN permanent Western members, the US, Britain and France, have pushed for a tough response to Myanmar’s coup leaders, veto-wielding members Russia and China are less keen on action by the council.

Criticism of the coup and the violent crackdown on protesters has come largely from the West, with Myanmar’s Asian neighbours more muted. The junta counts on some support from Russia and China, a major investor.

The US imposed trade sanctions against the military regime in Myanmar on Thursday and has told China, which has not condemned the coup, that it wants Beijing to play a constructive role. China says that stability is a top priority.

“I don’t think China and Russia are ready to” place UN sanctions on Myanmar, International Crisis Group analyst Richard Gowan posted on Twitter. “The military have already declared that they are willing to absorb any sanctions anyway."

Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, said Myanmar’s security forces were killing children and called for UN sanctions and an arms embargo on the country.

“Myanmar’s security forces, emboldened by long-standing impunity, have used deadly force to gun down peaceful protesters in the streets,” said Mr Charbonneau.

“No country should be selling a single bullet to the junta after its abuses against Myanmar's people.”

The military seized power on February 1, saying that the landslide victory of veteran democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the November elections was fraudulent.

The electoral commission has said the elections were fair.

The military has pledged to hold new elections at an unspecified date, but pro-democracy campaigners have rejected that and demand the release of Ms Suu Kyi, who has been held in detention since the putsch.

The junta, which ruled directly for about 50 years until it embarked on a tentative transition to democracy a decade ago, has struggled to stamp its authority on a country where many people reject a return to military rule.

Myanmar's ambassador to the UN, U Kyaw Moe Tun, has said he rejected the junta and ended a UN General Assembly speech with a three-finger salute, a protest symbol of pro-democratic defiance. The military attempted to sack the envoy, but he remains in the job.