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UN rights chief urges ASEAN to launch dialogue with Myanmar

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup and to mark the anniversary of 1962 student protests against Myanmar's first junta in Yangon on July 7, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to start a political dialogue with the contending parties in Myanmar with support from the international community.

Myanmar has been in crisis since the country’s military arrested the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her associates on February 1 over accusations of voter fraud in favor of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the November 2020 elections.

Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday that the ASEAN bloc agreed a five-point consensus in its meeting with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in April, "but unfortunately the Myanmar military leadership have shown little sign of abiding by it."

"It is urgent for ASEAN to appoint a special envoy or team to get some kind of political dialogue underway. I encourage ASEAN to engage with the democratic leadership and civil society, not just the military front."

Bachelet stressed the necessity of allowing the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians in Myanmar, as agreed with the ASEAN, without it being "instrumentalized" by the military.

"It will be important to deliver aid through civil society structures as much as possible and in consultation with the democratic opposition."

The military’s crackdown on anti-coup protests have left about 900 people killed, Bachelet told the Geneva forum on Tuesday at the start of a two-day debate, adding that at least 5,200 remain unlawfully detained.

Elsewhere in her remarks, the top UN human rights official on Wednesday said at least 93 journalists have been arrested, at least 44 of whom remain in custody, including foreign correspondents.

"Eight major Myanmar media outlets have had their licenses revoked by the military, many journalists have had no option but to seek safety outside of the country," she said.

Bachelet also said "a fundamental change in the military's role and full civilian control of the military" are required to reach  a sustainable solution to the crisis in Myanmar.

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