By: Arun Kumar Shrivastav
In a meeting of foreign ministers of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries on Thursday, ways to reduce conflict in Myanmar were discussed. The regional block that comprises 10 member countries including Myanmar held its meeting without Myanmar, which has been barred from participating in any high-level ASEAN engagements. In a press release, Myanmar’s military government warned the ASEAN forum that giving it a time frame to initiate or conclude any peace plan in Myanmar would have negative implications and will not be binding on Myanmar as the ASEAN held its meeting with only 9 members.
Expressing frustration over the situation in Myanmar, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said, “Instead of progressing, the situation was even said to be deteriorating and worsening… The acts of violence once again must stop immediately… Without a cessation of violence, there will be no conducive conditions for the resolution of this political crisis.”
Last year, ASEAN tried to broker peace between the military rulers and armed rebels and recommended a five-point peace plan.
ASEAN has tried to play the role of a peace broker by suggesting a five-point peace plan. One of the points of the consensus was that Myanmar will allow an ASEAN envoy to visit the country and meet all the concerned parties, including Aung San Suu Kyi. While Myanmar initially agreed to the plan, it did not take any action to implement it.
“The meeting agreed that ASEAN should not be discouraged, but even more determined to help Myanmar to bring about a peaceful solution the soonest possible,” Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who chaired the meeting, said in a statement after the Thursday meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers.
On Sunday, the Myanmar military launched one of the deadliest air strikes. It came on a live concert that was organized to mark the 62nd anniversary of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and killed 80 people including singers and musicians. The UN office in Myanmar condemned the attack and said it was “deeply concerned and saddened.”
“What would appear to be excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed civilians is unacceptable and those responsible must be held to account,” it added.
When the bombs were dropped at a base near Hpakant in northern Myanmar by three military jets, popular Burmese singer Aurali Lahpai was onstage and she died during the performance in the middle of a song. Around 500 people were watching the live concert, a New York Times report said. Hpakant is the hub of Myanmar’s famed jade stone industry and these stones are the source of revenue for both the military and the armed rebels.
The air strike on a crowd of rebels and innocent people follows closely a parcel bomb that exploded at the gate of the notorious Insein Prison on the outskirts of Yangon. It is the largest prison in Myanmar and houses thousands of politicians and activists, taken into custody since the coup in February, last year. Three prison officials and 5 visitors were killed in the explosion that also triggered a gunfight between security officials and armed rebels. Government officials said that the parcel contained mines. An armed group, the Special Task Force of Burma (STA), took responsibility for the attack and said the targets were prison officials and the military ruler Min Aung Hlaing.
As peace seems to elude Myanmar even after thousands of people have been killed, tens of thousands injured, and over a million displaced, there are reports from various parts of the country that the military is increasingly losing control over large swaths of territory. For example, in the Rakhine state with borders opening to the Bay of Bengal and Chittagong of Bangladesh, the Arakan Army is said to be controlling two-thirds of the territory and giving a tough fight to the military in the remaining areas as well as in other states in coordination with other rebels groups. Because of the increased sanctions, the military is facing difficulty in replenishing the hardware to keep its fight against the rebels. Meanwhile, the Myanmar military rulers are facing problems on the economic front as well. Because of the unrest, the 55-million-strong population of Myanmar is now facing problems with livelihood and daily essentials including food.
Myanmar’s military’s lust for power can only be attributed to its backwardness and lack of exposure to modern democracy. While several countries think that Myanmar’s military should be modernized by cross-cultural exchanges and training programs, some regimes with their vested interests would like to see the military grow stronger in the country. It’s this fractured opinion that allows the military regime in Myanmar to continue. But the way rebels have alienated the regime from the people and made them fight with the military, it’s increasingly difficult for the military to be in a control for long. (IPA Service)