UN chief Antonio Guterres on Saturday urged the people of Myanmar to return to democracy immediately, saying it was the only way to end the “endless nightmare” plaguing the country.
Myanmar has been rocked by a bloody conflict that has killed thousands since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in February last year.
The escalating crisis dominated a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, which has led so far diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed.
“The situation in Myanmar is a never-ending nightmare for the people and threatens peace and security in the entire region,” Guterres told reporters.
“I urge the Myanmar authorities to listen to their people, release political prisoners and get democratic change back on track immediately. That is the only way to stability and peace.”
After meeting ASEAN leaders, Guterres said it was important that a peace plan agreed with the junta – but not yet implemented – came into effect.
“The indiscriminate attacks on civilians are appalling and heartbreaking,” he said.
In a reminder of the daily horrors faced by the people of Myanmar, residents and the media on Friday accused a raid on a village in western Rakhine state of burning down homes and killing at least five civilians.
Junta troops have been accused of killings and arson in central, northern and eastern Myanmar as they struggle to crush opposition to military rule.
The junta has previously accused “terrorist” anti-coup fighters of setting fire.
ASEAN agreed a “five-point agreement” with the junta in April last year aimed at ending anarchy in Myanmar, but has so far been ignored by generals.
Growing frustrated ASEAN leaders tasked their foreign ministers on Friday with coming up with a concrete plan to implement the consensus.
He also gave his blessing to an ASEAN special envoy meeting with opposition groups in Myanmar – a move that drew a fierce reaction from the junta, which regards dissident organizations as terrorists.
Western powers have stepped up sanctions on the junta, but violence has escalated in recent weeks with deadly military airstrikes on civilian targets, including a school and a concert.
US President Joe Biden will hold talks with ASEAN leaders later on Saturday and urge them to keep pushing the junta to end the violence.
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president would “discuss how we can coordinate more closely to continue containing costs and increase pressure on the junta”.
The junta has justified its power grab by alleging fraud in the December 2020 general election, which Suu Kyi’s party won with an overwhelming majority.
The generals have promised to hold fresh elections next year, but the United States and the UN special envoy for Myanmar have said there is no chance of them being free and fair.