‘Nearly 250,000 people displaced’ in Myanmar military crackdown

UN envoy warns of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, appeals for action as ASEAN prepares for a summit on Myanmar coup.

Protesters defend themselves from the troops in Kale, Sagaing region, Myanmar, on March 28, 2021 [File: Reuters]

The Myanmar military’s crackdown on anti-coup protests has displaced close to a quarter of a million people, a United Nations rights envoy said, as activists in the Southeast Asian nation staged demonstrations calling for the release of all those arrested since the February 1 coup.

Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, again appealed for international action on Wednesday, saying he was “horrified” to learn from his sources that “the junta’s attacks have already left nearly a quarter million Myanmar people displaced”.

“The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe,” he added.

The appeal came as Myanmar’s neighbours prepare for a summit in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Saturday to discuss the coup.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been trying to guide fellow member Myanmar out of the bloody turmoil triggered by the coup, but the group’s principles of consensus and non-interference have restricted its ability to overcome members’ divergent views on how to respond to the army’s killing of hundreds of civilians.

Nikkei Asia – citing a military spokesman – reported on Wednesday that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, would attend the regional summit.

So far, Myanmar’s military has shown little willingness to engage with its neighbours and no sign of wanting to talk to members of the government it deposed on February 1, accusing some of them of treason, which is punishable by death.

‘Blue shirt campaign’

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, says at least 738 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, while 3,300 people are currently in detention, including 20 who have been sentenced to death.

On Wednesday, people shared photos on social media wearing blue shirts and holding up a hand with the name of an arrested person written on it. The shirts are a tribute to pro-democracy activist Win Tin who was imprisoned by the military for 19 years and died on April 21, 2014.

After his release, he pledged to wear a blue shirt until all political prisoners were freed.

“Please raise your voice and demand the release of all the people who are being unfairly detained under the junta government,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung said on Facebook.

The military has released thousands of people from jail since the coup but relatively few have been linked to the protests. Meanwhile, military-backed television broadcaster MWD reported on Tuesday that the home affairs ministry had declared a National Unity Government (NUG) formed by opponents of the military as unlawful.

Last week, pro-democracy politicians, including deposed members of parliament, announced the formation of NUG that nominally includes Myanmar’s elected leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup.

The NUG says it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and has requested international recognition and an invitation to the Jakarta meeting.

A grouping of ASEAN legislators also said the NUG should be invited.

“ASEAN cannot adequately discuss the situation in Myanmar without hearing from and speaking to the National Unity Government,” ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said in a statement.

On the invitation to Min Aung Hlaing, it said: “ASEAN must make it abundantly clear that he is not there as a representative of the Myanmar people, who totally reject his barbaric junta.”

Human Rights Watch said the 10-member bloc should immediately withdraw the invitation to the military government.

“Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created,” HRW’s Brad Adams said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies