YANGON: Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday blamed instability and the COVID-19 pandemic for stalling efforts to implement a peace plan agreed with other Southeast Asian countries, and pledged to hold new elections next year.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the junta seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi last February, with the death toll from the military’s brutal crackdown on dissent having passed 2,000, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta sparked global outrage last week over its execution of four democracy activists, which the military said was carried out in the name of justice.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, said last week that capital punishment was “highly reprehensible” and a setback that presents a “gross lack of will to support” efforts made by the bloc to end the crisis, after an April 2021 agreement to a five-point consensus to end the violence triggered by the military coup.
Aung Hlaing said those measures, which included holding dialogues, have not been implemented because Myanmar has struggled to overcome various nationwide challenges.
“The country has been striving (through) a series of hardships in the last year due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the lack of stability in the nation, which made it difficult to implement the ASEAN consensus,” he said in a speech aired by state-run media.
“We value the convention of ASEAN, as Myanmar is a member state of the association,” he added. “We will try to implement the five-point consensus.”
The statement comes with Southeast Asian foreign ministers set to meet in Cambodia on Wednesday. ASEAN has barred the Myanmar junta since late last year due to its lack of progress in implementing the peace plan.
Myanmar has extended its state of emergency, which was first introduced after the coup, for another six months to “continue working to return the country” to a “multiparty democratic system and to hold multiparty democratic general elections,” according to a report from state media.
Aung Hlaing, who is chair of the junta-backed State Administration Council that has been running Myanmar since the military takeover, said there had been voting fraud during a November 2020 general election that saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party winning by a landslide. The junta will hold elections in 2023, he added.
“The entire public needs to cast their vote as they like without threats, coercion, or pressure in any form,” Aung Hlaing said.
The ethnic Arakan National Party, which is dominant in Rakhine state, told Arab News that all political parties must be involved if the junta were to hold peace talks.
Rakhine was the site of a brutal military crackdown that began in August 2017, which led to over 740,000 people, predominantly Rohingya, fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
“As the saying goes, ‘action speaks louder than words,’” ANP Chairman U Thar Htun Hla said.
“It’s very important for SAC to hold fair and square peace talks, and treat all the organizations indiscriminately.”