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UN Special Envoy calls for New Year’s ceasefire in Myanmar

Yangon residents board the Circular Railway train to get to the outskirts of the city.
Asian Development Bank/Lester Ledesma
Yangon residents board the Circular Railway train to get to the outskirts of the city.

UN Special Envoy calls for New Year’s ceasefire in Myanmar

Peace and Security

The UN Special Envoy on Myanmar has appealed for a New Year’s ceasefire following weeks of escalating violence in the country. 

In a statement issued on Monday, Noeleen Heyzer said she is deeply concerned by increased violence in Kayin state and other areas, which has displaced thousands of civilians, many of whom have fled the country for protection and assistance. 

Demonstrations have been taking place in Myanmar ever since the military seized power in February, and security forces have responded with bloody crackdowns. 

Silence the guns 

Some opponents of the junta have taken up arms, some of whom have linked up with ethnic minority groups fighting for self-determination, according to media reports. 

“The people of Myanmar have already suffered tremendously and the socio-economic and humanitarian situation has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ms. Heyzer.   

“Those inflicting suffering on its own people need to silence their guns and protect people in time of great need.  The future of Myanmar’s children counts on this”. 

Seek a peaceful solution 

The Special Envoy echoed the UN Security Council’s call for all parties to exercise utmost restraint and seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.  

The Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) has also appealed for an immediate cessation of the violence, she recalled. 

Ms. Heyzer urged all parties to act in the greater interest of the nation and to fully respect their obligations under international law to protect civilians, ensure free movement towards safety, and allow humanitarian access to those in need.  

“To this end, she appeals for a New Year’s ceasefire throughout Myanmar,” the statement said.  

UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Ms. Heyzer as his Special Envoy on Myanmar back in October.  She succeeded Christine Shraner Burgener, who had served since April 2018. 

Consulting all stakeholders 

Since beginning her assignment earlier this month, Ms. Heyzer said she has been actively consulting all stakeholders with a view to supporting a Myanmar-led process. 

“The Special Envoy, supported by her Office, will engage directly with and listen carefully to all those affected by the ongoing crisis that has become multi-faced with serious regional implications”, the statement said. 

“In this respect, the Special Envoy will continue to focus on mobilizing coherent international support grounded on regional unity”. 

UN humanitarian chief calls for probe into ‘grievous’ attack on civilians

Meanwhile, authorities in Myanmar must investigate a deadly attack against civilians in Kayah state, the UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement on Sunday.

Mr. Griffiths said he was “horrified” by reports that at least 35 people, including at least one child, were killed in the attack, which occurred on Friday.  They reportedly were forced from their vehicles, killed and burned.

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Two humanitarian workers from the aid organization Save the Children remain missing, he added, having been caught up in the violence. Their private vehicle was attacked and burned. 

“I condemn this grievous incident and all attacks against civilians throughout the country, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” said Mr. Griffiths.

He urged the government to immediately launch “a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident so that perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice.”

Protect civilians from harm

Mr. Griffiths also called on the Myanmar army, as well as armed groups, to take all measures to protect civilians from harm.   

“Millions of people in Myanmar remain in dire need of humanitarian support,” he said, adding that the UN and its humanitarian partners remain committed to providing help throughout the country.

The UN continues to monitor developments in Myanmar in the wake of the military coup in February.

Earlier this month, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said it was appalled by the alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses.

Spokesperson Rupert Colville said serious violations are “reported daily of the rights to life, liberty and security of person, the prohibition against torture, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of expression.”