Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun's voice cracked with emotion as he spoke out against the military regime that ousted the nation's elected civilian government in a coup.
Myanmar’s UN ambassador has strongly opposed the military coup in his country and appealed for the “strongest possible action from the international community” to immediately restore democracy in a dramatic speech to the UN General Assembly that drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body.
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun began his statement on Friday saying he represented Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy “civilian government elected by the people” in November, and supported their fight for the end of military rule.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the military coup, and to refuse to recognise the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Suu Kyi’s NLD party.
He also urged stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
I applaud my colleague Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun today on his courageous and powerful statement to the @UN General Assembly today.— Ambassador Barbara Woodward (@BWoodward_UN) February 26, 2021
We stand with the people of #Myanmar against the military coup. pic.twitter.com/5H7KZfhuGE
The last time an ambassador broke ranks with their country's ruler was in 2011 when the Libyan representative denounced then leader Muammar Gaddafi.
It is extremely rare for a representative to break with the rulers of the country they represent during an address at the UN General Assembly.
The ambassador even flashed the three-finger salute that has been used by pro-democracy protesters during street demonstrations against the junta, after concluding his speech with a message in Burmese.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” Tun said, agreeing with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “that military coup is not acceptable in this modern world and the coup must cease.”
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” he vowed.
Tun’s surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting including ambassadors representing the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the new US ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield, who joined others in describing it using words including “courageous,” “powerful” and “brave.”
In her first appearance at the assembly since presenting her credentials to Guterres on Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “stands in solidarity” with the people of Myanmar who are in the streets protesting the coup.
And she reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that “we will show the military that their actions have consequences” and demand to the military “to immediately relinquish power.”
In a tweet later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Myanmar by its former name Burma and said “the United States commends the courageous and clear statement" of ambassador Tun, “and by those in Burma who are making their voices heard. We must all heed their call to restore democracy in Burma."
'Fight without arms'
The assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup and the military pushing democratic processes aside, violating the constitution, reversing and reforms instituted by Suu Kyi, who was previously the de facto head of government, and arresting peaceful protesters, civil society representatives and members of the media.
She pointed to restrictions on internet and communication services and the detention of about 700 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar and she called “the use of lethal force and rising deaths unacceptable.”
The huge protests in the country are not about a fight between Suu Kyi’s NLD party and the military, she said, “it is a fight without arms.”
Addressing diplomats in the General Assembly chamber by video link, Schraner Burgener urged “all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
The February 1 military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.
Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term that day, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
Myanmar’s military says it took power because last November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the state election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta.
The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.
Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly that “democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the constitution on Feb. 4 and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw known as CRPH,” and are seeking “to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them.”
Legitimacy of election results
Tun, the Myanmar ambassador, began his remarks to the assembly by reading a statement from CRPH stressing the legitimacy of the election results, declaring that the military overthrew the democratically elected government, citing the massive opposition by the people, and stressing that “now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar military.”
The CRPH, saying it represented some 80 parliamentarians, asked the UN, the Security Council and the international community “that aspires to build a peaceful and civilised global society to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people of Myanmar.”
'Myanmar’s internal affairs'
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose neighbouring country has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar and is its biggest trading partner, called on all parties to handle differences through dialogue “under the constitutional and legal framework,” avoid violence, “and continue to promote the domestic democratic transformation process in an orderly manner.”
Never mentioning the military or a coup and describing what happened in Myanmar as “in essence Myanmar’s internal affairs,” he said the international community should help the parties “bridge their differences and solve problems.”
Zhang backed efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations which Myanmar belongs to, “in playing an active role in easing the current state of affairs.”
ASEAN countries are discussing holding an informal foreign ministers meeting and “we look forward to its early convening on the basis of consensus, thus providing a useful platform and opportunity for promoting problem solving,” he said.