ASEAN denounces Myanmar junta’s massacre in Pa Zi Gyi

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) released a statement Thursday condemning an air strike by Myanmar military forces that killed over 100 villagers in Sagaing Region this week.  

“All forms of violence must end immediately, particularly the use of force against civilians,” said the statement, issued by the association’s current chair Indonesia. “This would be the only way to create a conducive environment for an inclusive national dialogue to find a sustainable peaceful solution in Myanmar.”

The air strike, carried out on Tuesday morning in the village of Pa Zi Gyi, Kanbalu Township, targeted a ceremony marking the opening of an office for pro-democracy local administrators. The administrators were opponents of the military regime and affiliated with Myanmar’s publicly mandated, shadow National Unity Government (NUG). 

The victims of the attack–the deadliest since the military seized power in February 2021–included more than 30 children. 

When asked about the civilian deaths, military spokesman Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun blamed anti-junta armed resistance groups, referring to them as “terrorists” and claiming they were present at the ceremony and had forced civilian villagers to participate. 

ASEAN, a regional bloc of ten countries that includes Myanmar as a member, had appealed to Myanmar’s coup regime in April 2021–two months after the military took power–to resolve the political crisis in accordance with a non-binding “five-point consensus” accepted by the bloc’s members. 

However, the regime subsequently reneged on the terms of the agreement, which included dialogue with armed groups in Myanmar opposing the coup, saying it would begin to implement ASEAN’s plan only after the situation in the country became “stable.”

ASEAN’s denunciation of the indiscriminate violence in Pa Zi Gyi echoed concerns expressed by other foreign governments and officials, with the US State Department, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk all issuing forceful condemnations the same day the attacks occurred.

The United Kingdom–a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)–proposed that the Council respond to the Pa Zi Gyi massacre with a statement calling for the full implementation of UN Resolution 2269. This resolution, adopted by the UNSC in December 2022, demanded an end to violence in Myanmar and that the regime be held to its initial commitment to the ASEAN consensus. 

However, with permanent UNSC members Russia and China expressing reservations at a meeting on Wednesday, the Council stopped short of issuing the UK’s draft statement or otherwise condemning the attack on Pa Zi Gyi. 

Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy cited “conflicting information” about the attacks, noting that the military’s account differed from what witnesses had told the press. A Chinese diplomat said UNSC members should encourage a peaceful resolution to Myanmar’s civil conflict, but remain impartial regarding other countries’ internal affairs. 

Russia and China were the only permanent UNSC members to abstain when the Council adopted Resolution 2269. India had been the only non-permanent member of the 15-member Council to abstain. 

With Indonesia chairing ASEAN in 2023, the regional bloc was expected to take a harder line in holding the Myanmar junta accountable than under Cambodia’s 2022 chairmanship. However, ASEAN has yet to ban Myanmar from certain summits for failing to abide by the five-point consensus, a measure endorsed by Indonesian president Joko Widodo last year. 

ASEAN’s Thursday statement concluded with an appeal to implement its 2021 plan for achieving peace in Myanmar. 

“We reiterate ASEAN’s commitment to continue assisting Myanmar in seeking a workable and durable solution to the ongoing crisis through promoting the full implementation of the Five-Point Consensus,” the statement said.

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