Because of growing conflict and insecurity, COVID-19, and a failing economy, the UN humanitarian chief urged Myanmar’s military leaders on Monday to provide unrestricted access to the more than 3 million people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance since government forces seized power on Feb. 1.
“This number will only climb” without an end to the bloodshed and a peaceful conclusion to Myanmar’s situation, according to Martin Griffiths.
He also asked donors to respond to the United Nations plea, noting that less than half of the $385 million needed has been gathered since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian administration.
Monday marked the one-year anniversary of Myanmar’s 2020 elections, which “were declared free and fair by domestic and international observers,” according to United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won about 80% of the elected seats in both the upper and lower chambers of Parliament. The military disputes the results, stating that the election was rigged.
“The United Nations reiterates its call on the military to respect the people’s will and put the country back on track to democratic transition,” Dujarric said, adding that the UN is “gravely concerned” about the “intensifying violence in Myanmar” and urges unrestricted humanitarian access once more.
Griffiths’ comments came as members of the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss Myanmar, as the United Kingdom had requested. According to diplomats, Russia and China were opposed to a suggested press statement that would express worry about recent violence, including air strikes, and reiterate the council’s support for the country’s democratic transition, although talks were still ongoing.
Before leaving for the meeting, UK deputy ambassador James Kariuki told reporters that the UK is particularly concerned about the intensification of military action in northwest Chin state, “and we are concerned that this rather mirrors the activity we saw four years ago ahead of the atrocities committed in Rakhine against the Rohingya” Muslim minority.
“As a result, we’re quite interested in ensuring that the council is focused and that the military is aware that we’re monitoring,” he added.
Myanmar has been wracked by unrest since Suu Kyi’s removal, with peaceful protests against the ruling generals morphing first into a low-level insurgency in many urban areas after security forces used lethal force, and then into more serious combat in rural areas, particularly in border regions where ethnic minority militias have been fighting government troops.
On Sept. 7, the National Unity Government, the principal underground organisation organizing opposition to the military, called for a countrywide revolt. It was founded by elected lawmakers who had been prohibited from assuming their seats after the military took control. Its “People’s Defense Forces” operate around the country and have acquired weaponry and training from armed ethnic groups.
Christine Schraner Burgener told The Associated Press just before her three-and-a-half-year stint as the United Nations special envoy for Myanmar expired on Oct. 31 that the nation had devolved into “civil war.”
She stated that the United Nations has received reports that many soldiers are on the ground in Chin state conducting “clearing operations,” and reminded the world that the military’s “clearing operation” in Rakhine state in 2017 resulted in villages being burned down, widespread rapes, and more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh.
The situation in the northwest is also “very worrying,” according to Griffiths, “with an intensification in confrontations between the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Chinland Defense Force in Chin state, and with the People’s Defense Forces in Magway and Sagaing areas.”
“More than 37,000 people have been displaced, including women and children, and more than 160 residences, including churches and the headquarters of a humanitarian organization, have been torched,” Griffiths added. “Attacks against people and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian workers and institutions, are expressly banned by international humanitarian law and must be promptly stopped.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes across the nation due to violence since February 1, he added, and 223,000 people remain internally displaced.
“This includes 165,000 individuals in the country’s southeast,” Griffiths added, “on top of a considerable population of people who were already displaced in Rakhine, Chin, Shan, and Kachin states previous to the takeover.” He highlighted that 144,000 Rohingya individuals are confined to camps or live in camp-like settings in Rakhine, many of whom have been displaced since 2012, and that over 105,000 people have been displaced in Kachin and Shan, many of whom have been displaced for years.
“Increasingly worried” about reports of rising levels of food insecurity in and around metropolitan centers, notably Yangon and Mandalay, said the UN’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.