UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Two years after Myanmar's military seized power, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced support Monday for the democratic aspirations of Myanmar's people and warned that the military's planned elections amid a crackdown on civilians and political leaders "risk exacerbating instability."
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general strongly condemns all forms of violence in Myanmar as the crisis in the country deteriorates "and fuel serious regional implications."
The army seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, arresting her and top members of her governing National League for Democracy party, which had won a landslide victory for a second term in a November 2020 general election.
Security forces suppressed widespread opposition to the military takeover with lethal force, killing almost 2,900 civilians and arresting thousands more people who engaged in nonviolent protests. The savage crackdown triggered armed resistance in much of the country. The military government has deemed major organizations opposed to army rule to be "terrorist" groups.
The military enacted a new law on registration of political parties, which was published Friday, that will make it difficult for opposition groups to mount a serious challenge to army-backed candidates in a general election scheduled for later this year. It sets minimum levels for parties, including membership levels 100 times higher than in 2020 elections, plus stiff funding requirements.
Guterres "is concerned by the military's stated intention to hold elections amid intensifying aerial bombardment and burning of civilian houses, along with ongoing arrests, intimidation and harassment of political leaders, civil society actors and journalists," the U.N. spokesman said. "Without conditions that permit the people of Myanmar to freely exercise their political rights, the proposed polls risk exacerbating instability."
The secretary-general "continues to stand in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and to support their democratic aspirations for an inclusive, peaceful and just society and the protection of all communities, including the Rohingya," Dujarric said.
Longstanding discrimination against Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, including denial of citizenship and many other rights, exploded in August 2017 when Myanmar's military launched what it called a clearance campaign in northern Rakhine state in response to attacks on police and border guards by a Rohingya militant group. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, where they remain in camps, as troops allegedly committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.
In January 2020, the International Court of Justice, the U.N.'s top court, ordered Myanmar to do all it could to prevent genocide against the Rohingya. Two days earlier, an independent commission set up by Myanmar's government concluded there were reasons to believe security forces committed war crimes against the Rohingya - but not genocide.
Guterres welcomed the first-ever resolution on Myanmar adopted by the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 21 demanding an immediate end to violence in the Southeast Asian nation and urging its military rulers to release all "arbitrarily detained" prisoners, including Suu Kyi, and to restore democratic institutions.
The resolution calls for the opposing parties to pursue dialogue and reconciliation and urges all sides "to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law."
The secretary-general considers the resolution "an important step and underlines the urgency for strengthened international unity," Dujarric said.
The spokesman said the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, will coordinate closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the Security Council's call "to engage intensively with all relevant parties in Myanmar to achieve an end to the violence and to support a return to democracy." Indonesia took over as ASEAN chair on Jan. 1 from Cambodia.
"The United Nations is committed to staying in Myanmar and addressing the multiple vulnerabilities arising from the military's actions since February 2021," Dujarric said, urging unhindered access to all affected communities.
"The secretary-general renews his call for neighboring countries and other member states to urge the military leadership to respect the will and needs of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms," the U.N. spokesman said.