Published: 16:32, March 26, 2021 | Updated: 21:21, June 4, 2023
Myanmar needs to resolve conflicts via dialogue
By Yang Han in Hong Kong

This photo taken and received from an anonymous source via Facebook on March 26, 2021 shows residents applauding protesters wearing protective gear during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay. (PHOTO / AFP)

As the violence and protests escalate in Myanmar with more sanctions by Western countries, regional experts urge different parties to resolve conflicts through dialogues and communication, with foreign parties expected to play an intermediary role.

“Some sort of mediation by trusted parties, domestic or foreign, to be participated by all or most parties to the confrontation is necessary,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, adding this will help open some channels of communication for dialogues.

Massive protests broke out since early February after the military took state power on Feb 1 with a major cabinet reshuffle as it alleged massive voting fraud in the November 2020 general elections

“It would appear that neither the military nor the opposition is willing to back down from increasingly serious and violent confrontation,” said Oh, who is concerned that more casualties are likely to be reported as the confrontation persists.

Massive protests broke out since early February after the military took state power on Feb 1 with a major cabinet reshuffle as it alleged massive voting fraud in the November 2020 general elections.  Civil organizations in Myanmar estimated that about 2,600 protestors have been arrested so far, according to China Central Television.

READ MORE: Martial law imposed in 4 more townships of Yangon in Myanmar

The military freed 628 protestors on March 24 morning, according to the website of Myanmar’s Ministry of Information.

In a news conference on March 23, Deputy Minister for Information Zaw Min Tun said a total of 164 protesters died in less than two months. Five police officers and four soldiers also perished in the conflicts.

On March 24, the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council held in Geneva adopted a resolution on Myanmar without a vote, according to information published on UN’s website.

Dismissing the resolution and a possible future prosecution by the International Criminal Court, Myanmar said it strongly rejected “any measure which could lead Myanmar to international judicial system and any judgement that could erode the ongoing domestic judicial mechanisms”.

“Our position is utterly clear relating to (the) ICC as it shall not exercise the jurisdiction over Myanmar, a non-State Party to Rome Statute,” said Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kyaw Myo Htut, who joined the meeting online.

The Myanmar military said that it will rerun general elections after a one-year state of emergency that was declared on Feb 1

Some countries and international bodies have announced targeted financial sanctions. For example, on Mar 22, the European Union imposed sanctions on military chiefs, including military leader Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar. In recent days the United States and the United Kingdom also announced sanctions on Myanmar officers and military-controlled conglomerates.

Western countries may add more targeted sanctions against those perceived to be responsible, said Oh from SIIA. “But it remains to be seen if these sanctions would actually effectuate a de-escalation of the violent situation.”

Min Zaw Oo, executive director of Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security (MIPS), said sanctions on individuals will have a limited impact but the reputational damage to the military has been deepened both domestically and internationally.

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The most dangerous scenario that Min Zaw Oo thinks is that “Myanmar is at the verge of a major armed conflict if any foreign power decides to supply weapons to the opposition”.

“If that happens, Myanmar will be destabilized beyond any point of returning to normalcy,” Min Zaw Oo told China Daily.  So outside interference especially is unwholesome to Myanmar.

Thuta Aung, CEO of consulting firm HamsaHub in Myanmar, said blanket sanctions that will significantly slow down the growth trajectory of Myanmar.

“The survival of domestic businesses is already challenging, so by attempting to punish the country by imposing more sanction, it will cripple the private sector,” said Thuta Aung, said things have already been difficult before the military takeover due to the pandemic. There have been forecasts of sharp declines of economic growth for the country this year.  

Min Zaw Oo from MIPS said the real issue in Myanmar is a domestic issue demanding to be addressed internally.

Still, he said ASEAN can play a bridging role between the region and the international community.

“The ASEAN can talk to the regime and come up with some intermediary role,” he said, noting the regime needs to have a clear message that the state power must be returned to an elected government eventually.

The Myanmar military said that it will rerun general elections after a one-year state of emergency that was declared on Feb 1. It said the state power will be handed over to the elected party.

Echoing Min Zaw Oo’s view, Oh from SIIA said ASEAN can play a more proactive role.

Indonesia has called members in the Association in the Southeast Asian Nation, of which Brunei is the chair this year, to hold a high-level meeting to try to find a way out of Myanmar’s escalating crisis, according to Reuters.

Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan is visiting Indonesia on March 25-26, after his visits to Brunei and Malaysia. In his meeting with his Malaysian counterpart on Marc 23, the ministers discussed the situation in Myanmar and ASEAN’s support for Myanmar’s return to national reconciliation and stability.

Oh said Singapore, Malaysia or ASEAN countries can play host to an all-parties talk, with their foreign ministers or senior diplomats acting essentially as mediators.

“The dialogue is still an important mechanism,” said Bridget Welsh, honorary research fellow with the University of Nottingham Malaysia's Asia Research Institute. But she said a ceasefire is needed before dialogues can begin.

“There is a deep concern among people who watch Myanmar closely that the country is going on the verge of potentially escalating to civil war,” said Welsh. “This will be extraordinarily problematic in terms of the regional spillover and the potential loss of lives.”

China has called on all parties to keep resolving differences through dialogue and consultation under the framework of the constitution and laws to push forward the process of democratic transformation in the country. It also urged Myanmar to take further measures to protect Chinese citizens and their property in the country after some Chinese-financed factories in Yangon were vandalized in attacks on March 14.