October 27, 2022
JAKARTA – ASEAN chair Cambodia late on Tuesday called on Myanmar’s military junta to “take concrete actions” in building peaceful dialogue with its opposition after a Sunday military air raid in northern Kachin state killed at least 80 people, including civilians.
The raid, commenced on a day where the ethnic minority group gathered in large numbers to enjoy a concert celebrating the Kachin Independence Organization’s founding, has been deemed by analysts as the single-worst air attack since last February’s coup d’etat. Witnesses said that three planes were spotted carrying out the attack, according to local reports.
The ASEAN chair statement noted the organization’s “grave concern” over the escalation of violence in the country and “strongly urged for utmost restraint and the immediate cessation of violence”.
“We are deeply saddened by the growing casualties and the immense suffering that ordinary people in Myanmar have endured. […] We observe with alarm the latest intensified fighting,” the statement said.
“We urgently call on all parties concerned, in particular one with significant power on the ground, to take concrete actions to enable a process of inclusive and constructive dialogue.
The recent escalation of violence is in direct violation of the spirit of the Five-Point Consensus and “undermines” the efforts of the ASEAN special envoy assigned to advance its implementation, it added.
The response comes just two days before ASEAN foreign ministers are expected to meet in Jakarta for crunch talks focused on the treatment of the Myanmar coup crisis, as well as a day after hundreds of civil society groups sent an open letter to ASEAN demanding it cut ties with the junta.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s military forces, the Tatmadaw, defended Sunday’s attack by saying that it is in line with the international rules of engagement.
“As security forces, they are responsible for fighting insurgents, which is essential for regional peace and stability,” a military statement said, Reuters reported.
Amnesty International’s deputy regional director Hana Young on Monday said that the attack was “part of a pattern of unlawful aerial attacks by the military” and a show of “ruthless disregard for civilian lives”.
Cambodia’s chair statement also cited last Wednesday’s Insein prison attack, which killed at least eight people, including prison guards and civilians.
The Insein prison is Myanmar’s largest, housing thousands of political dissidents since the military putsch that toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration. The prison is notorious for its inhumane treatment of prisoners, with reports recounting cases of torture and neglect since at least the beginning of the year.
Special Task Agency of Burma (STA), an anti-junta vigilante group, claimed the attack on the day of the incident, insisting that the bombing was in line with the group’s objective of “waging a final battle to root out the military dictatorship”. Analysts have noted that STA’s actions could prove to be “divisive” and injurious to the pro-democracy coalition of Myanmar.
Naypyidaw’s shadow government, the National Unity Government (NUG), condemned the attack and emphasized that all parties who opposed the junta must adhere to a code of conduct previously set for opposition “soldiers”.
The referred codex has allowed attacks to be carried out only on “the mechanisms of the dictatorship”, while firmly stressing that civilians should be excluded from becoming the target of ambushes.
The Five-Point Consensus, issued in April 2021 by nine ASEAN leaders and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, is a peace initiative calling for the immediate cessation of violence, dialogue among all parties, the appointment and engagement of a special envoy and the delivery of regional humanitarian assistance.
Despite initially agreeing to the document, Min Aung Hlaing back pedaled a few days later. One-and-a-half years later, the junta has not ceased committing violence and has frequently refused to partake in multi-party dialogues.
Early October data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that at least 1.3 million Burmese civilians have been internally displaced since the coup, while estimations from the Institute for Strategy and Policy pointed to over 5,600 civilian deaths.