Worst is still to come in Myanmar, UN envoy says

Crackdown on protesters will ‘become bloodier’, diplomats say behind closed doors

TOPSHOT - This handout from the Karen Information Center taken and released to AFP on March 31, 2021 shows ethnic Karen people taking part in an anti-military coup demonstration in Hlaingbwe township, in eastern Myanmar's Karen state.    -----EDITORS NOTE --- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / KAREN INFORMATION CENTER " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS 

A UN envoy on Wednesday criticised Myanmar’s military junta for its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and urged the Security Council to act now against an “imminent bloodbath”.

Addressing the UN council on Wednesday, UN envoy Christine Schraner Burgener said the military had killed 520 people since it seized power in a coup last month and said that worse was still to come.

“I fear this trend will become bloodier as the commander-in-chief [Gen Min Aung Hlaing] seems determined to solidify his unlawful grip on power by force,” said Ms Schraner Burgener.

“I will remain open to dialogue and continue to signal this but if we wait only for when they are ready to talk, the ground situation will only worsen. A bloodbath is imminent.”

Ms Schraner Burgener addressed the council behind closed doors, but The National obtained a draft copy of her comments. In them, she called for a "firm, unified and resolute international response" from UN diplomats.

“I appeal to this council to consider all available tools to take collective action and do what is right, what the people of Myanmar deserve, and prevent a multidimensional catastrophe in the heart of Asia,” she said.

The UN’s top body has condemned violence against Myanmar protesters and called for military restraint, but stopped short of condemning the coup and deploying UN sanctions or other measures against the army due to opposition from Russia, China and others.

The South-East Asian nation has been beset by protests since the army toppled leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in a coup last month, locked up her and officials of her National League for Democracy party, and reinstated military rule.

More than 536 civilians have been killed in the unrest, including 141 who died on Saturday, the bloodiest day of protests so far, says Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Fighting has also flared between the army and ethnic minority insurgents in frontier regions.

The junta on Wednesday announced a one-month nationwide ceasefire beginning on April 1, relating to its conflicts with ethnic guerrilla groups and not pro-democracy activists.

Refugees fleeing the turmoil are seeking safety in neighbouring countries.

There is growing international concern about prospects for the country.

The junta has not taken up offers from neighbouring countries to help find a solution.

“A robust international response requires a unified regional pivot, especially with neighbouring countries leveraging their influence towards stability in Myanmar,” added Ms Schraner Burgener.

On Tuesday, the US ordered most of its citizens to leave Myanmar because of what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the "increasingly disturbing and even horrifying violence" against demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Myanmar's deposed leader, Ms Suu Kyi, appeared in good health in a video meeting, one of her lawyers said.

Ms Suu Kyi, who has been in custody since the military seized power on February 1, wanted to meet lawyers in person and did not agree to a wide discussion in the presence of police, according to lawyer Min Min Soe.

The 75-year-old leader faces charges that include illegally importing six hand-held radios and breaching coronavirus protocols. The military has also accused her of bribery. The next hearing is on Thursday.