The UN envoy on Myanmar has implored the security council to intervene in the escalating crisis, warning of the risk of civil war and an imminent “bloodbath” as the junta violently represses pro-democracy protests.
“I appeal to this council to consider all available tools to take collective action and do what is right, what the people of Myanmar deserve, and prevent a multidimensional catastrophe in the heart of Asia,” special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told the closed-door session.
She said she remained open for dialogue with the junta, but added: “If we wait only for when they are ready to talk, the ground situation will only worsen. A bloodbath is imminent.”
The UN plea came as the alternative civilian government, the CRPH – which was set up by MPs in hiding following the coup – declared invalid the 2008 constitution that automatically gave the military a quarter of seats on parliament and a constitutional veto.
The CRPH announced on social media a “federal democracy charter” to serve as an interim constitution. While more symbolic than practical, the move could help woo the armed militias maintained by the country’s ethnic minorities to ally themselves with the CPRH and mass protest movement against the military’s seizure of power.
The issue has great current political significance because the protest movement against military rule has been seeking an alliance with the ethnic minority armed groups to boost pressure on the junta. It would like them to form a federal army as a counterweight to the government armed forces.
The junta has declared the CRPH an illegal body guilty of treason.
More than 520 people have died since the military overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February, halting Myanmar’s decade-old experiment in democracy, according to figures from monitors confirmed by Burgener to the security council.
On Saturday the military launched the first airstrikes in Karen state in 20 years after a rebel group seized a military base, raising fears of a return to armed ethnic conflict in the ethnically diverse nation.
“The military’s cruelty is too severe and many [armed ethnic fighters] are taking clear stances of opposition, increasing the possibility of civil war at an unprecedented scale,” Burgener said.
“Failure to prevent further escalation of atrocities will cost the world so much more in the longer term than investing now in prevention, especially by Myanmar’s neighbours and the wider region.”
Britain called the emergency session of the security council after the military dramatically ramped up its use of lethal force against protesters over the weekend.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, raised the possibility of action if the military does not give up power. “We’re hopeful that the situation will eventually resolve and the military will go back to their barracks and allow the democratically elected government to take its place,” she told reporters.
“But if they do not do that, and they continue the attacks that they were making on civilian populations, then we have to look at how we might do more.’”
The United States has already imposed targeted sanctions and suspended a trade pact with Myanmar.
Ambassador TS Tirumurti of India, which has warm relations both with the United States and the Myanmar military, wrote on Twitter that he emphasised at the meeting “our steadfast commitment to democratic transition” and welcomed diplomatic efforts by south-east Asian nations.
The meeting came after it was reported that Myanmar’s deposed leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had held a video meeting with her lawyers.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in custody since the military seized power, had wanted to meet lawyers in person and had not agreed to a wide discussion by video in the presence of police, lawyer Min Min Soe told Reuters by telephone.
“Amay looks healthy, her complexion is good,” Min Min Soe said, using an affectionate term that means mother.
Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested the same day the military seized power and faces charges that include illegally importing six handheld radios and breaching coronavirus protocols.
The military has also accused her of bribery in two recent news conferences. Her lawyers say the charges are trumped up and have dismissed the accusation of bribery as a joke.
Meanwhile, the US ordered all non-essential embassy staff to leave the country. The decision was taken to protect the safety and security of staff and their families, the state department said.