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UN envoy calls for action to curb risk of major ‘civil war’

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UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener arrives at Sittwe airport after visiting Maung Daw Township at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border area in Rakhine State. STR/AFP

UN envoy calls for action to curb risk of major ‘civil war’

The UN envoy on Myanmar implored the Security Council to take action on March 31 in the Asian nation’s escalating crisis, warning of the risk of civil war and an imminent “bloodbath” as the junta violently represses pro-democracy protests.

More than 520 people have died in daily demonstrations since the military overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, halting Myanmar’s decade-old experiment in democracy.

“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 multi-dimensional catastrophe,” special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told the closed-door session, according to remarks obtained by AFP.

She said she remained open for dialogue with the junta but added: “If we wait only for when they are ready to talk, the ground situation will only worsen. A bloodbath is imminent.”

Barbara Woodward, the UN envoy from Britain, which requested the meeting, told reporters the council was “united in its condemnation” and was discussing “a range of measures at our disposal”.

But China, considered Myanmar’s main ally, ruled out sanctions.

“One-sided pressure and calling for sanctions or other coercive measures will only aggravate tension and confrontation and further complicate the situation, which is by no means constructive,” China’s ambassador, Zhang Jun, told the meeting, according to a statement.

The session came after Suu Kyi’s legal team earlier on March 31 said the ousted leader appeared to be in good health despite two months of detention.

Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen in public since she was deposed but a member of her legal team, Min Min Soe, was summoned to a police station in the capital Naypyidaw for a video meeting with her.

Suu Kyi is facing a raft of criminal charges, and conviction could see her barred from office for life.

Emergency session

The coup and the junta’s subsequent actions have triggered international condemnation.

Britain called for the emergency meeting after the military dramatically ramped up its use of lethal force against protesters over the weekend.

In another violent escalation, Myanmar’s military on March 27 launched the first air strikes in Karen state in 20 years after a rebel group seized a military base – raising fears of a return to armed conflict in the ethnically diverse nation.

“The military’s cruelty is too severe and many [armed ethnic fighters] are taking clear stances of opposition, increasing the possibility of civil war at an unprecedented scale,” Burgener said.

“Failure to prevent further escalation of atrocities will cost the world so much more in the longer term than investing now in prevention, especially by Myanmar’s neighbours and the wider region.”

Zhang, the Chinese ambassador, said he wanted Myanmar to “restore peace, stability and constitutional order as early as possible and continue to steadily advance democratic transition”.

He also called for the protection of foreign businesses – a key concern for China, which has seen dozens of its factories torched amid furore against Beijing.

Earlier, a group of ousted members of parliament from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), who have been working underground against the junta, said they would form “a new civilian government” in the first week of this month, without giving further details.

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