9 UN Security Council members urge a halt to airstrikes by Myanmar’s military

Nine members of the United Nations Security Council condemned “indiscriminate” airstrikes by Myanmar’s military against civilians before an envoy briefed the council Monday as part of regional efforts to implement a peace plan that has so far been largely ineffective.

The plan, adopted in April 2021 shortly after the military seized power in a takeover that sparked a civil war, calls for the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation by a special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels, and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties.

Veteran diplomat Alounkeo Kittikhoun — the special envoy to Myanmar from this year’s ASEAN chair, Laos, and a former U.N. ambassador — addressed a closed council meeting on behalf of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Kittikhoun committed to implementing ASEAN’s “five-point consensus” for peace in Myanmar through continued “quiet diplomacy,” according to a council diplomat familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

The military leadership in Myanmar has so far ignored the plan, and violence and the humanitarian crisis in the country have been growing at a rapid pace.

Before the council meeting, nine of the 15 council members stood before reporters to support a statement read by Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, which echoed ASEAN’s call urging Myanmar’s armed forces, “in particular, to cease its attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

The military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, and is facing an armed pro-democracy resistance movement that is assisted by ethnic minority fighting forces. The military stepped up airstrikes after the three ethnic minority armed groups launched a major offensive in late October, seizing towns in the country’s northeast, along with major border crossings for trade with China.

The nine council members — Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, South Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States — said that, three years after the military takeover, more than 18 million people need humanitarian aid and 2.6 million remain displaced.

At an ASEAN ministerial meeting on Jan. 29, Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith told reporters that Thailand was moving ahead with plans to provide more humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. The nine nations reiterated the council’s appeal for improved humanitarian access.

They expressed increasing concern at the situation in Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh, where more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims fled starting in August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar launched a brutal “clearance operation” against them following attacks by the insurgent Arakan Army.

The Arakan Army is part of the alliance of ethnic minority fighters. A Bangladesh official said Monday that more than 100 members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police fled fighting with the Arakan Army in Rakhine over the past two days and entered Bangladesh, the first time Myanmar forces have been known to flee the country since the ethnic minority armies’ offensive began.

The nine council nations expressed increasing concern that the Rohingya still in Myanmar, who have faced systematic discrimination for decades, are now contending with more restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as the denial of access to medicine and medical care. They demanded the implementation of the Security Council’s first-ever resolution on Myanmar, passed in December 2022, which calls for an immediate end to violence and immediate release of all “arbitrarily detained” prisoners, including Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint.

Myanmar’s U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who still represents Suu Kyi’s ousted government, urged the Security Council on Monday to adopt a stronger, enforceable resolution, saying, “Democratic forces are gaining ground and the military junta is losing every day.”

The nine council members said they remain deeply concerned at the lack of progress on the resolution’s call for all parties to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, and “the democratic will and interests” of people in Myanmar.

The council diplomat said there was no unanimity at the meeting Monday on next steps, though there was broad concern at the escalating situation across the country with the military fighting on several fronts, the risk of atrocities in Rakhine, and the need for better humanitarian access.

The United States pushed for an enforceable Security Council resolution to prevent Myanmar from getting jet fuel, the council diplomat said.

The U.S., U.K., European Union and others imposed sanctions in 2023 on the provision of aviation fuel to Myanmar, but Amnesty International reported Jan. 31 that new evidence suggests Myanmar’s military is using new tactics to evade sanctions.

The human rights organization called 2023 the worst year for airstrikes in Myanmar since the takeover, and said at least seven shipments of aviation fuel to Myanmar were directly linked to a storage unit in Vietnam, an ASEAN member.

According to the council diplomat, China, which has close ties to Myanmar, emphasized the need to give ASEAN’s efforts time and space. Russia, which also has links to Myanmar, reiterated that the council shouldn’t be interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

BY: Nadeem Faisal Baiga