UN expert: Myanmar’s resolve for clean elections ‘absurd’

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Army-ruled Myanmar’s promise of free and fair elections next year is “absurd,” a UN expert said on Thursday, as he called the international community’s campaign to legitimize its rule by military rule. warned not to come.

Tom Andrews, the UN special envoy on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said the military was working hard to “make a mark of legitimacy” after the government ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in the February 2021 takeover.

“Any suggestion that there might be any possibility of a free and fair election in Myanmar in 2023 is clearly absurd. You can’t have a free and fair election if you lock down your opponents. You can’t have a free and fair election if you put your opponents to death. This is outrage,” he said at a press conference during his visit to Malaysia.

“Their propaganda machine works round the clock and they will take any piece of evidence they can find to show that the international community considers them legitimate. This is something we are very cautious about and very careful that Don’t fall into that hype trap,” Andrews said.

The military seized power in the 2020 general election, citing widespread fraud. It appointed new members to the Election Commission, which said new multi-party elections next year would be free and fair.

Andrews said ASEAN should pressure Myanmar’s military to stop its violence and release all political prisoners. He said that ASEAN’s five-point consensus plan should be carried forward to include clear actions and timelines.

“Five-point consent has no meaning if it is just sitting on a piece of paper,” he said. “The only chance to make a difference is to put it into meaningful action with a strategy, an action plan, a deadline.”

Andrews praised Malaysia for containing Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government, set up by elected lawmakers who were stripped of their seats in parliament by a military coup. He urged other countries to do the same, calling the NUG a “legitimate unit” fighting a ruthless army.

He said the NUG could also provide resources to deliver humanitarian aid to Myanmar so that the junta could not use the aid as a “weapon of war”.

The army has faced widespread opposition to its rule. A low-level armed insurgency has emerged in both the cities and the countryside, following the use of lethal force by soldiers and police to quell peaceful demonstrations.

According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 2,007 demonstrators and spectators have died in junta action, although the government puts the death toll at about a third.

Andrews commended Malaysia for accepting refugees from Myanmar, especially the minority Muslim Rohingya, but expressed concern over their treatment in the country. He said refugees he spoke to in Malaysia cited fears of being sent to immigration custody, inadequate educational opportunities for children, and examples of police extortion.

Andrews said he was deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of children, including victims of trafficking, could be held in custody. The UN refugee agency has been denied access to these facilities since 2019.

On Malaysia’s plan to issue its refugee card, Andrews said the process should be transparent. Andrews said government officials should be prepared to engage in discussions and partnerships with the UN refugee agency to formulate clear and coherent policies.

Malaysia’s Interior Ministry said in April that it should decide who can stay in the country by issuing their cards to refugees.

Although it does not grant refugee status, Malaysia has approximately 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency, including more than 100,000 Rohingya and other Myanmar ethnic groups. Thousands more remain unspecified after having entered the country illegally by sea.

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