UN chief Antonio Guterres on Saturday urged the Myanmar junta to immediately return to democracy, saying it was the only way to stop the “unending nightmare” engulfing the country.
Myanmar has spiralled into bloody conflict since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi‘s civilian government in February last year, with thousands killed.
The escalating crisis dominated a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, which has led so far fruitless diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed.
“The situation in Myanmar is an unending nightmare for the people and a threat to peace and security across the region,” Guterres told reporters.
“I urge the authorities of Myanmar to listen to their people, release political prisoners and get the democratic transition back on track immediately. That is the only way to stability and peace.”
After meeting ASEAN leaders, Guterres said it was vital that a peace plan agreed with the junta — but so far not enforced — came into effect.
“Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are horrendous and heartbreaking,” he said.
In a reminder of the daily horrors faced by the Myanmar people, residents and media on Friday accused the junta of burning houses and killing at least five civilians in a raid on a village in western Rakhine state.
Junta troops have been accused of killing and arson sprees in central, northern and eastern Myanmar as they struggle to crush opposition to military rule.
The junta has previously accused “terrorist” anti-coup fighters of setting the fires.
ASEAN agreed a “five-point consensus” with the junta in April last year aimed at ending the chaos in Myanmar, but it has so far been ignored by the generals.
Increasingly frustrated ASEAN leaders on Friday tasked their foreign ministers with coming up with a concrete plan to implement the consensus.
They also gave their blessing to an ASEAN special envoy meeting opposition groups in Myanmar — a move that drew a furious response from the junta, which regards the dissident outfits as terrorists.
Western powers have heaped sanctions on the junta but violence has escalated in recent weeks, with deadly military air strikes on civilian targets including a school and a concert.
U.S. President Joe Biden will use talks with ASEAN leaders later Saturday to urge them to keep pushing the junta to end the violence.
Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the president would “discuss how we can coordinate more closely to continue to impose costs and raise pressure on the junta”.
The junta has justified its power grab by alleging fraud in the December 2020 general election, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
The generals have pledged to hold a fresh election next year, but the United States and the UN’s special rapporteur for Myanmar have said there is no chance of it being free and fair.