Burma/Myanmar: Between ASEAN´s demanded deescalation and real escalation

Burma/Myanmar: Between ASEAN´s demanded deescalation and real escalation

While the situation in Burma/Myanmar is escalating, the Karen Union attacking Burmese military troops to protect protesters and some parts of the opposition call for international interference under the Right To Protect (R2P), China tries to fend off any Western or foreign support for the opposition before the meeting of the Myanmar coup leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing with the ASEAN as this would escalate and destabilize the situation. However, calls by the opposition for an invitation to the ASEAN meeting and a possible dialogue with the Burmese military general were rejected and China didn´t support that, but wanted a ASEAN meeting and ASEAN as a mediator:

“China Says ASEAN Summit Should Fend off External Interference in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 23 April 2021

Two days before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) emergency summit on Myanmar, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has warned that the meeting should be conducive to “fending off external interference” as that makes “no contribution to solving the problems of a country’s internal affairs”.

China’s top diplomat made the comments during a telephone conversation with the Thai deputy prime minister and the second minister of foreign affairs of Brunei, the current chair of the 10-nation bloc.

The purpose of the ASEAN summit on Saturday in Jakarta is to look for solutions to the deteriorating situation in post-coup Myanmar, and to discuss the potential repercussions of the military’s takeover for the region and beyond. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN and coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will attend the meeting. China has been pushing ASEAN to take a stand on Myanmar.

“It (external interference) will bring turbulence and even deteriorate the situation, further affecting and disrupting regional stability,” Wang said in the phone call.

Foreign minister Wang’s comments are thought to be a reference to the repeated calls of pro-democracy supporters in Myanmar for the international community to intervene in the country under the auspices of R2P – Responsibility to Protect – a global commitment adopted by all United Nations (UN) members in 2005. R2P allows the international community to take collective action if a state fails to protect its own population from atrocities such as war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Since the junta’s Feb. 1 coup, the regime has killed at least 739 civilians, including 50 children, and arrested 3,370 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

China has failed to take a strong stand against the military takeover in Myanmar. Despite demands from pro-democracy groups in the country that the international community apply “serious pressure” on the junta, Beijing has repeatedly blocked UN Security Council attempts to take action against the coup leaders and prevent further bloodshed. Beijing has repeatedly insisted that the crisis in Myanmar is an internal affair.

Wang Yi said that China calls on the international community, with an objective and impartial attitude, to do more to relieve the tense situation in Myanmar, instead of the contrary.

He urged that the international community jointly support ASEAN in its role and said he hoped that Saturday summit would pave a way to deescalate the situation in Myanmar.

Wang said that meeting should be conducive to promoting political reconciliation in Myanmar, adding that whether the Myanmar issue can be properly resolved depends mainly on the country itself.

The way out of the current crisis is for all parties in Myanmar to seek new understanding through political dialogue within the constitutional and legal framework, and to continue pushing forward the hard-won democratic transition, said Wang.

China will maintain close communication with ASEAN and continue to work with all parties in Myanmar in its own way, he added.

In late March, the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar spoke for the first time with members of the committee representing elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy government.

During the meeting, the lawmakers urged China to back the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), which was founded after the coup as a rival administration to the military regime. However, the Chinese diplomats did not state clearly whether Beijing sought a mediation role in any dialogue between the CRPH and the junta.

The ASEAN meeting welcomed the Myanmar coup leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing , but avoided to offend him with concrete demands. While the ASEAN did not put any potential  sanctions in persepective if the hoped-for demands for a deescalation shouldn´t be meet, it condemned the violence, but sees both sides responsible for it.

ASEAN Leaders Urge Myanmar Coup Chief to End Violence, Allow Special Envoy, Aid

Leaders of Southeast Asian nations attend the ASEAN meeting on Saturday in Jakarta. Myanmar coup leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing is seated in the foreground at right. / BPMI Setpres

By The Irrawaddy 24 April 2021

ASEAN leaders urged Myanmar’s coup leader to de-escalate the violence in his country and seek a political resolution to the crisis through dialog at their summit in Jakarta, Indonesia on Saturday, but seemingly failed to elicit any firm promises from the military chief.

The assembled leaders pressured coup leader and armed forces commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to end the violence by his security forces, which has seen at least 745 people killed during brutal crackdowns against peaceful anti-regime protesters, and called for the release of political prisoners including civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta has detained nearly 3,400 individuals since the Feb. 1 coup.

During the meeting, the leaders reached a five-point consensus to urge Myanmar to accept the appointment of a special envoy to engage with all the parties and to grant access to humanitarian assistance from ASEAN, which would be coordinated by the ASEAN secretary general in conjunction with the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Center).

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the situation in Myanmar is “something that is unacceptable and must not continue,” adding that the violence must be stopped and democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar restored.

“The interests of the Myanmar people must always be the priority,” the Indonesian president said.

Widodo said, “I also conveyed the importance of the Myanmar military leadership to make a commitment to ending the use of force by the Myanmar military. At the same time all parties must exercise restraint so that tensions can be defused.”

Malaysia put forward a three-point proposal including a de-escalation of the situation on the ground and an end to killing and violence against civilians.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urged the coup leader to release all detainees promptly and unconditionally. “We realize that the success of ASEAN’s efforts on Myanmar very much depend on the willingness of the Tatmadaw to cooperate,” he said, referring to the Myanmar military.

After the meeting, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the media that the Myanmar junta leader said he is not opposed to a visit by a delegation from ASEAN to help resolve the crisis in the country.

“He said he heard us, he would take the points in which he considered helpful, that he was not opposed to ASEAN playing a constructive role, or an ASEAN delegation visit, or humanitarian assistance, and that they would move forward and engage with ASEAN in a constructive way,” Lee Hsien Loong said.

Press statements from the ASEAN leaders do not indicate that the coup leader made a specific promise to end the violence in his country or release political prisoners, however.

U Aung Myo Min, a longtime human rights advocate and the director of Equality Myanmar, welcomed ASEAN leaders’ efforts to stop the violence in Myanmar, but voiced disappointment that ASEAN failed to extract concrete promises from the coup leader on how he would meet their demands.

“We are disappointed because such demands and statements can be made even without face-to-face talks. Besides, we don’t see there is a set timeframe or an effective action plan, in order not to delay [implementation],” he said.

Expectations for ASEAN’s special summit on finding solutions to the deteriorating situation in Myanmar were not high, given the bloc’s policy of non-interference and its history of favoring previous military dictatorships in the country. Myanmar people were already disappointed that the bloc declined to invite representatives of the parallel, civilian National Unity Government (NUG) formed on April 16 by elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy.

U Moe Zaw Oo, the NUG’s deputy foreign minister, said, “The demand of ASEAN to end the violence should be linked with concrete action if the demand is not met. The same is true for the release of the political prisoners. ASEAN must have a concrete plan for what to do if these demands are not met,” U Moe Zaw Oo said.

“ASEAN should be aware of the fact that the military council is very accustomed to lying to its own people and the international community. We welcome the engagement but it should also be meaningful in the sense that it must have real impact on the situation on the ground. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time,” the deputy foreign minister said.

U Aung Myo Min rejected the first item in the “five-point consensus” spelled out in the chairman’s statement that was issued after the meeting, which states that “all parties shall exercise utmost restraint”. The human rights advocate said: “It shows that ASEAN does not understand the situation in Myanmar. In fact, our people, unarmed civilians, are not committing violence; we are being abused. Such wording is unfair, and [shows] they don’t know the true situation.”

While the ASEAN leaders and China are speaking of an escalation by both sides, the Myanmar opposition is publishing in The Irrawady magazine  an alleged memorandum by the Myannmar military leadership to “annihilate” all protesters, to make body count operations and escalate the situation, while it was trying to seal off the military from facebook and social media, protesters, outside influences and to put pressure on the middle- and low rank files and their family members that the Myanmar military doesn´t disintegrate or parts of it change sides:

Myanmar Regime Troops Ordered to ‘Annihilate’ Protesters, Internal Memos Show

By The Irrawaddy 24 April 2021

Myanmar is likely to see more bloodshed as security forces on the ground have been instructed to wipe out anti-regime protesters wherever they encounter them, according to internal memos issued by the top military command in the country’s capital Naypyitaw and whose contents were divulged to The Irrawaddy.

“You must annihilate them when you face them,” reads an instruction dated April 11, because “rioters [the military’s euphemism for anti-regime protesters] have gone from peaceful demonstration to the level of armed conflict.”

“Officers at all levels have to follow these instructions strictly,” it adds.

The order amounted to a retroactive endorsement of the massacre of 82 people just two days earlier in Bago, a city north of Yangon, in which soldiers and police sprayed protesters with live rounds and used rifle grenades to destroy roadblocks fortified with sandbags.

Two days later, on April 14, another memo was distributed.

It reads, “All the emergency security forces must be weaponized fully and systematically” as “riots may extend to your control area,” citing ongoing protests in “every township in  Sagaing, Mandalay, Yangon and Bago regions and in Mon State.”

Since the coup on Feb. 1, the leaders of Myanmar’s military (or Tatmadaw) have been roundly condemned inside and outside the country for committing atrocities against their own citizens. Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has been dubbed “murderer-in-chief” by many people online, as his troops have killed more than 700 people so far.

The regime claims its use of force against protesters is justified to stop what it has referred to as “rioting”. It has used some protesters’ sporadic use of Molotov cocktails and air guns to portray the protesters as being the instigators of the violence. While the regime’s brutal repression has prompted some protesters to take up crude weapons such as homemade firebombs or rudimentary hunting rifles, the protests across the country have been largely peaceful.

It should be noted that most of the civilians deaths so far took place prior to the “annihilate them” order. Given the number of deaths that occurred before the military command decided a shoot-to-kill “instruction” was necessary, it seems many more can be expected in the days ahead, now that the regime has given its already-trigger-happy troops a green light to embark on a killing spree.

With the “rioters” keeping up their protests, Myanmar seems likely to descend further into bloodshed.

It has also been learned that since February, the Myanmar military has been recalling battle-hardened commanders to the cities from remote battlefields to quell the peaceful protests.

Vice Senior General Soe Win along with hardline regional commanders and Lieutenant General Than Hlaing, the deputy home affairs minister, have been playing key roles in the serious rights violations committed during the Tatmadaw’s violent suppression of protesters and resistance forces. Both men are now on EU and US sanctions lists.

Despite resorting to violence and heavy-handed measures to control the anti-coup protests, the regime has been unable to restore law and order. Its attempted coup has not succeeded yet. At the same time, it has been struggling to maintain unity among its ranks.

The Irrawaddy has learned that top leaders, motivated by a mixture of deeply entrenched economic interests, a desire for political power and a misplaced sense of patriotism, are feeding rank-and-file soldiers and their families a steady diet of intimidation and propaganda, using psychological warfare tactics to keep them in line and hold the institution together.

To ensure military officers and their families don’t waver, the military on April 16 issued a warning to its command and field units that “foreign as well as domestic media are criticizing economic, political, social, religious and human rights issues of our government.”

It then instructed “all responsible persons at all level of forces to prohibit troops and families from listening to the media and explain to them at least twice a week that such broadcasts are lies.”

Long before the order was issued, senior commanders had already banned mid-ranking officers from using Facebook, the country’s most popular social media platform. The result has been to isolate them from the outside world and daily events in Myanmar. In effect, the Tatmadaw has become their entire world.

On April 17, the military’s high command instructed all units “not to allow strangers to come into the military camps or surrounding areas.”

In the ethnic states, in an “opinion” distributed on April 12, the senior command told armed forces and regional commands to be aware that “ceasefire armed groups are not officially organized by the State” and emphasized that the Myanmar military “is the only legal armed force” and “has to work for democracy and development with full strength.”

It further stated that the military “really wants peace and its main role is defending the country.”

The message ends with the exhortation that “the above opinion must be explained to all the troops.”

However, The Irrawady only quotes the memorandums, but has no screen shot of the original documents or something similar which could proof the quotations. But on the other side, this maybe also be due to source protection.

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