Air assistance

Cambodia hosts meeting on humanitarian aid to Myanmar

The hybrid meeting, which some participants joined via video, brings together high-level representatives from Myanmar and the other nine ASEAN member states, its external partners, specialized UN agencies and other international organizations. . Cambodia is the current chair of ASEAN.

The meeting is part of an attempt to revive a five-point consensus on Myanmar reached by ASEAN in April last year. The effort comes in response to the violence that swept Myanmar after the military in February 2021 seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and used lethal force to crush opposition to her takeover. control.

The consensus calls for an immediate cessation of violence, dialogue between the parties concerned, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid and a visit to Myanmar by the envoy special to meet all parties involved.

Myanmar accepted the consensus but made little effort to implement it. His blocking has led other ASEAN members to prevent Myanmar leaders since last October from attending key meetings of the regional grouping.

At the same time, armed resistance to military rule has intensified to the point that some UN experts say the country is now in a state of civil war. Myanmar’s military has launched large-scale operations including airstrikes in several parts of the country, generating a large number of displaced people.

In an effort to eliminate safe havens for armed opponents, government tactics have included burning down entire villages and restricting access to essential supplies such as food.

According to an assessment by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some 924,800 people remained displaced across Myanmar as of 25 April, including 578,200 who have fled their homes due to conflict and insecurity since military coup.

“Humanitarian access to conflict-affected and displaced people remains severely restricted and there are significant gaps in assistance to these communities despite continued efforts by humanitarian partners and local organizations,” he said.

Although access to people in need has been facilitated, relief efforts are facing funding challenges. Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the region, and its economy has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and political upheaval, making foreign aid imperative.

The UN’s 2022 humanitarian response plan aims to reach a record 6.2 million people and requires $826 million, the global body announced last month. To date, it is only 4% funded, he said.

Critics of Myanmar’s military government suggest that any attempt to implement the five-point consensus is a waste of time.

“ASEAN’s credibility depends on its ability to act in accordance with the reality of the situation in Myanmar,” the nonpartisan ASEAN Parliamentarians Group for Human Rights said in an open letter last month. to ASEAN leaders. “The group cannot expect the military to abide by the terms of the five-point consensus or any international or humanitarian standards for that matter.”

The group of lawmakers said it was “imperative that member states step up measures to put real pressure on the military to prevent it from brutalizing its own population and turning the country into a failed state.”

Suggested measures include suspension of Myanmar’s ASEAN membership, travel bans to the region for General Min Aung Hlaing and members of his ruling military council and targeted sanctions against them that include their sources of economic support. Western countries such as the United States and Britain have already implemented similar bans and penalties.

“Myanmar’s junta has spent the past year committing atrocities in complete disregard of its commitments to ASEAN,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Myanmar’s leading ASEAN countries – Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – should immediately change course to focus on protecting people’s rights and freedoms rather than helping the junta stay in power. “

Critics of Burma’s military say any breakthrough towards resolving Myanmar’s crisis must ultimately involve the country’s so-called National Unity Government, which is the main organization representing opposition forces. The group, set up by elected lawmakers who were denied their seats by the military’s takeover, sees itself as the country’s legitimate government and enjoys broad public support. The country’s military leaders, however, have officially designated it an illegal terrorist organization and refuse to engage with it.

The open letter from the group of lawmakers called on ASEAN “to immediately and publicly meet with the NUG”, a call which was met with a positive response on Twitter from Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah. He said he met informally by video with the NUG foreign minister ahead of a conference of ASEAN foreign ministers in February.

Saifuddin later said that Malaysia would propose that ASEAN informally engage with the NUG as no progress had been made in a year in implementing the five-point consensus.

“We are not proposing that ASEAN recognize other governments, but such informal engagement may be conceivable, particularly on how humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar who are still in their country may be channeled,” did he declare.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry quickly rejected his proposal, calling it “irresponsible and reckless”.

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Associated Press correspondent Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.