Myanmar’s plight still a global issue
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine dominates the headlines, the deteriorating situation in neighbouring Myanmar that has been dragging on for over a year must not be forgotten. In fact, there are still major issues that need reporting, such as the movement of refugees and regional efforts to secure peace.
Mainstream media coverage of the Ukraine-Russia issue has highlighted the importance of upholding democratic principles as well as solving the problem of refugees. The public is being bombarded by news and images of destroyed buildings, troops deploying and Ukrainian civilians arming themselves to defend their country.
Every day, we hear harrowing tales about the plight of the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky through his savvy PR campaign has become the face of resistance against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military might, resulting in support from the United States and its European allies.
The coverage of Ukraine’s conflict has been so thorough that even some people in Thailand are considering joining the fight in eastern Europe.
Recently, the government in Kyiv opened a military legion for foreign nationals to join the resistance, but it is unclear whether the Thais will fight Russian troops in Ukraine. However, the message of resistance has resonated among people in other countries. According to Kyodo, 70 Japanese nationals answered Ukraine’s call to use arms against the Russian invaders.
Amid this shift in global news coverage, we must not forget about the atrocities perpetrated in our neighbourhood. As the crisis in Myanmar passed the one-year milestone, resistance towards the junta snowballed into guerrilla warfare involving civilians joining militia groups to fight the junta.
The actions of the junta have driven about 300,000 from Myanmar, with hundreds of civilians arrested, beaten, tortured, or killed by the authorities, according to the United Nations. On top of that, the UN projects that up to 25 million people of the country’s more than 55 million population will fall into poverty this year.
One must surely understand that in a conflict between two sides, both parties must sit at the table for talks. Yet the Myanmar military sternly insists that it is the only legitimate governing body in Myanmar, denying access to Aung San Suu Kyi and her officials, who are sitting in detention on trumped-up election fraud charges and convictions no one believes to be true.
Myanmar’s military leaders are adamant about staying in power, claiming that ousting Suu Kyi’s civilian-led government was the correct response to alleged fraud in her landslide general election victory at the end of 2020.
The junta claims that new elections will be held at some point after the situation “stabilises”.
For two years, bringing the junta to the table for peace talks hasn’t been easy — officials have been blocking regional efforts to stop the violence and find a resolution to the political conflict.
The junta has agreed to Asean’s Five-Point Consensus peace plan “in principle” but its actions clearly show it moving in the opposite direction. Requests by Asean envoys to meet Suu Kyi were met with the cold shoulder. The junta is trying to delegitimise Suu Kyi’s civilian government.
The junta even fought over who gets to represent Myanmar in the Rohingya genocide hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where Suu Kyi personally defended Myanmar’s generals when the case opened in December 2019.
Now she is on house arrest and her officials are in disarray, with the world unsure of whether she will ever lead Myanmar again or whether democracy will return.
Asean has its work cut out, and more news outlets should pay attention. Regional leaders are now taking the lead to ensure the junta in Myanmar follows through on the promise it made in April to fulfil the bloc’s Five-Point Consensus peace plan.
Cambodia has a chance to help return democracy to Myanmar, with Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn’s three-day visit on March 20.
Prak Sokhonn is expected to try to inch closer to finding a solution. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen previously visited Myanmar but that was considered more a mere icebreaker than an attempt to make solid progress.
The people of Myanmar need the world’s attention as well as humanitarian help more than ever.
The media, mainstream or otherwise, must continue to be the eyes and ears on the ground and ensure that the plight of the Myanmar citizenry is not buried beneath other major world headlines.
After all, who will keep leaders in check if the world is looking away?