Myanmar ‘mass crimes’ loom as troops gather in north: UN

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An annual UN human rights report on Myanmar indicated that the junta had engaged in probable crimes against humanity and war crimes, special rapporteur Tom Andrews says. AFP

The UN on October 22 said it feared an even greater human rights catastrophe in Myanmar amid reports of thousands of troops massing in the north of the country, which has been in chaos since a February coup.

“We should all be prepared, as the people in this part of Myanmar are prepared, for even more mass atrocity crimes. I desperately hope that I am wrong,” said UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews.

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed in the country’s bloody crackdown on dissent and more than 8,000 arrested since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.

Andrews, who was presenting the findings of an annual human rights report on Myanmar to the General Assembly, said that he had received information that tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons were being moved into restive regions in the north and northwest.

The findings, he said, also indicated that the junta had engaged in probable crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“These tactics are ominously reminiscent of those employed by the military before its genocidal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017,” Andrews said.

About 740,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017 after security forces launched a clampdown that the UN has said may amount to genocide.

Andrews urged countries to deny Myanmar’s military junta the money, weapons and legitimacy it desired, citing a prisoner release earlier in the week as evidence that pressure was working.

On October 18, Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing announced the release of more than 5,000 people jailed for protesting against the coup.

The move came just days after ASEAN delivered a major snub to the military regime, exclude the junta head from an upcoming summit of the 10-country bloc.

“ASEAN’s announcement that the junta will not be welcome at its upcoming summit strikes at the heart,” Andrews said.

Andrews said that junta-controlled forces had displaced a quarter million people. Many of those who had been detained were tortured, he said, including dozens who had died as a result.

Andrews added that he had received credible reports that children had also been tortured.

Meanwhile, US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet on October 21 highlighted that Singapore has a very important role to play in addressing Myanmar’s political crisis, given its “significant financial leverage” over the Myanmar ruling military.

Chollet was speaking to reporters in a telephone briefing from Jakarta during a trip to Southeast Asia. He had been to Thailand and Singapore earlier last week.

In a tweet posted on October 20, Chollet said he had met Ho Hern Shin, a deputy managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. “We discussed ways to limit the Burmese military regime’s access to overseas financial assets,” he wrote, using the former name of Myanmar.

Singapore is the top investor in Myanmar, accounting for more than $24.3 billion worth of approved investments in the country.

In August, Singaporean foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the city-state’s leverage over Myanmar’s ruling military has been “overestimated”.

Reflecting on the conversation with various parties last week in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, Chollet said there was “widespread agreement” with pushing the regime back to the path of democracy and adhering to ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus, which calls for the cessation of political violence and constructive dialogue among all parties.

“We are in general agreement on the path forward. There are, of course, differences in opinion in the tactics of how we get there,” he said. “There are going to be very important decisions to be made in the coming weeks to make progress, to hold the regime to account.”

Asked if the US planned to recognise the parallel National Unity Government set up by ousted Myanmar legislators but which has been labelled a terrorist group by the ruling military, Chollet said: “We are deeply committed to engaging with them, sharing our best ideas, hearing from them about their needs and the situation inside Burma, encouraging them to do what they can to unify the movement.”