The coffin of U Zaw Shine, a teashop owner who was shot dead during a crackdown by security forces in Mandalay two days after the ASEAN summit, is displayed on April 27. (AFP)
The coffin of U Zaw Shine, a teashop owner who was shot dead during a crackdown by security forces in Mandalay two days after the ASEAN summit, is displayed on April 27. (AFP)

Tatmadaw wants ‘stability’ before heeding pleas on violence

The military regime said it would consider the “constructive suggestions made by ASEAN leaders when the situation returns to stability in the country”.

By AFP

The junta said Tuesday it will heed regional pleas to stop violence only when Myanmar “returns to stability”, as the military continues to meet street protests with deadly force and conflict escalates with ethnic armed groups in border areas.

Since the February 1 coup, security forces have killed more than 750 people in brutal crackdowns on protests and strikes, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attended a Saturday meeting on the crisis with the leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Indonesian capital Jakarta – his first overseas trip since he seized power.

The leaders issued a “five-point consensus” statement that called for the “immediate cessation of violence” and a visit to Myanmar by a regional special envoy.

On Tuesday, the State Administration Council – as the junta dubs itself – said it would consider the “constructive suggestions made by ASEAN leaders when the situation returns to stability in the country”.

The statement also said its neighbours’ suggestions would be “positively considered if it would facilitate the implementation” of the junta’s five-step roadmap.

Regime spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told AFP it was “satisfied” with the summit in Jakarta, saying they had been able to explain the “real situation” to ASEAN leaders.

But ASEAN is not known for its diplomatic clout and observers have questioned how effectively it can influence the crisis.

The former United States ambassador to Myanmar, Scot Marciel, warned that the military’s response to the ASEAN summit showed signs of backsliding already.

“ASEAN cannot dither here, as the junta moves to walk back even the limited agreement reached Saturday,” Marciel said in a tweet. 

“There should be urgent follow-up, and costs imposed on the junta for delay. There is a reason no one in Myanmar trusts the Tatmadaw,” he said.

‘Nobody dares to stay’

The junta has registered a far lower death toll than the AAPP, which is calls an “illegal organisation”. It has also blamed the violence on “rioters”.

Two days after the ASEAN meeting, a teashop owner in Mandalay, which has been a hotspot of unrest, was shot dead amid a protest that saw a violent crackdown by security forces, according to a rescue worker. 

The anti-coup movement has garnered broad support across the country, including among some of the ethnic armed groups that have for decades been fighting the military for more autonomy. 

The most outspoken of these groups, the Karen National Union, has clashed with the military in their territory along the eastern border with Thailand for weeks.

On Tuesday, fighting broke out near the Thanlwin (Salween) River, which demarcates part of the border, with residents on the Thai side reporting hearing gunfire and explosions coming from inside Myanmar. 

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed the attack by the KNU’s Fifth Brigade, saying the brigade was not listening to the KNU’s central command and acting independently. 

“We will continue to take action for security reasons,” he said.

But Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the KNU’s head of foreign affairs, called the junta’s statement “nonsense”, adding that their soldiers had razed the Tatmadaw’s army base. 

“This is a divide-and-rule technique… we approve [of Fifth Brigade’s attack],” he said.

Last month, after the KNU overran a military base in the same region, the junta responded with multiple air strikes at night – the first use of air offensives in Kayin State in over 20 years.

Some villagers had already left their homes for other towns in fear of another round of retaliation from the Tatmadaw, said Hkara, a longtime ethnic Karen resident of Mae Sam Laep, a village on the Thai side of the border.

“Nobody dares to stay,” she told AFP. “They ran early this morning already when the fire fighting started.”

The fighting over recent weeks in Kayin has displaced more than 24,000 civilians, including about 2,000 who crossed the river to seek refuge in Thailand before they were pushed back by border authorities.

In addition condemning the military putsch, the KNU has also said it is sheltering at least 2,000 anti-coup dissidents who fled urban centres of unrest.  

Besides the KNU, the Tatmadaw has also fought in recent days with the Kachin Independence Organisation in Kachin State and the Restoration Council of Shan State in southern Shan.

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