Is Myanmar ‘weaponising’ Covid-19 crisis to ‘suffocate’ resistance?

NAYPYITAW, 16 July 2021:

Myanmar’s military junta is “weaponising” the country’s Covid-19 crisis to “suffocate” resistance to the Feb 1 coup, an NGO formed by former UN experts on the country said today.

“The junta is weaponising Covid-19 for its own political gain by suffocating the democracy movement and seeking to gain the legitimacy and control it craves – and has so far been denied – by deliberately fuelling a humanitarian disaster and then co-opting the international response,” said Yanghee Lee, who was the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar between 2014 and 2020.

In a statement by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar NGO, founding member Lee called on the international community for urgent help to get life-saving Covid-19 assistance across the borders.

“The junta allowed Covid-19 to run free. The coup it launched in February has failed. The junta has not established ordinary government structures and it is unable to do so,” added Chris Sidoti, a former member of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

This group has called for the investigation and prosecution of the army’s commander-in-chief and now coup-leader general Min Aung Hlaing and his top military leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“The only viable way of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis in Myanmar is to deal with the democracy movement.”

For this, the group proposes opening humanitarian supply-line corridors at various points along the borders together with civil society organisations, ethnic authorities and others aligned with the Civil Disobedience Movement and the National Unity Government (NUG), made up of dozens of former parliamentarians and activists.

The NUG, which claims to be the legitimate government of Myanmar and supports ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is branded a terrorist group by the military junta, which maintains arrest warrants against its members.

More than 5½ months since the coup, the junta has failed to garner authority or support in the country – and civilian protests against it continue despite the security forces’ violent crackdown to quell dissent.

At least 912 people have been killed as a result of the violence, according to data from the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, which also counts more than 6,670 detainees since the coup.

Min Aung Hlaing has not fulfilled his commitment to stop the violence against civilians that he committed to at the end of April in front of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

“Asean resolved to provide humanitarian assistance over 2½ months ago as part of its five-point consensus,” said Marzuki Darusman, former chair of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

“It is unacceptable that Asean only acts at the pleasure of the junta while so many lives are being lost. There is no excuse for Asean, UN agencies or any other actors to delay. There are ways to get assistance directly to the people now.”

Myanmar, plunged into political and humanitarian turmoil after the coup, is also now battling a severe outbreak of Covid-19 aggravated by a lack of oxygen supplies and the population’s deep distrust of the military.

Since the coup, thousands of health professionals have gone on indefinite strike to protest the seizure of power and refuse to work under the orders of the military.

Myanmar officially registered 4,188 new cases and 165 deaths yesterday, bringing its total to 212,545 infections, including 4,346 deaths, since the start of the pandemic, although experts believe the true figure is much higher.

– EFE