Myanmar Situation: Indifference in Intl Community Has Aggravated Humanitarian Crisis

The military crackdown continues in Myanmar, aggravating the humanitarian crisis there. As the international community’s interest in Myanmar wanes, Japan must step up its involvement in efforts to stop the violence.

Feb. 1 marked three years since the military overthrew the democratic government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup. During this period, about 4,500 civilians have died as a result of military and police crackdowns. Some pro-democracy forces have been waging an armed struggle in cooperation with ethnic minorities.

Since autumn last year, anti-junta forces have launched full-scale attacks in border areas and elsewhere, and the military is believed to have lost bases at more than 500 locations. However, as the military has a firm grip on urban areas, many observers believe that these losses will not lead to the collapse of the regime.

About 2.3 million people have been internally displaced as a result of the intensifying fighting, a situation that cannot be left unchecked. The displaced are forced to live in poor conditions in camps along border areas. It is said that international aid groups are barely able to operate, and that shortages of water, food and medical supplies are severe.

The military is also conducting airstrikes on refugee camps in an attempt to break the will of ethnic minorities to fight. This is despicable. The military must immediately stop the violence in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The military has said that after conducting a census by the end of the year, it will hold a general election to return the country to civilian rule. However, under the current circumstances in which the military is repressing democratic forces, there is absolutely no hope for a fair election.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has proven highly dysfunctional. ASEAN member nations are divided into hardliners and conciliators on the Myanmar issue, and have been unable to take effective steps to stop the violence.

This is not the time for ASEAN to fixate on noninterference in the internal affairs of other member countries or the principle of unanimity. ASEAN should put strong pressure on the Myanmar military, which has brought about the humanitarian crisis, to withdraw from politics.

Western nations are pressuring the military through economic sanctions, but China and Russia are providing loopholes. According to a U.N. special rapporteur, weapons provided by China and Russia are being used to attack Myanmar civilians. Support for the military must be stopped immediately.

The international community has shifted its attention to the situations in Ukraine and the Middle East. China and Russia have taken advantage of this and increased their involvement in Myanmar.

China has stepped in to mediate a temporary ceasefire between the Myanmar military and ethnic minorities in the border areas with China. Beijing is clearly looking to prevent a flow of displaced people into China, and to expand its influence in Myanmar, a strategic location.

Japan is in a position to play a role in keeping Asia stable. If the Myanmar military does not immediately stop the violence and release Suu Kyi and other detainees, Tokyo will need to make its presence felt, such as by taking the lead in drafting a resolution on sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 2, 2024)