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China backs U.N. statement condemning Myanmar military's "violence against peaceful protestors"

Myanmar protests turn deadly after coup
Myanmar protests turn deadly after coup 01:19

United Nations — The bloodshed in Myanmar has drawn an unusual consensus from the 15 nations on the U.N. Security Council, which adopted its strongest statement to date on Wednesday condemning "the violence against peaceful protestors, including against women, youth and children." 

The Council's statement was a diplomatic step forward as China and Russia had, until Wednesday, been willing to defend the actions of Myanmar's military junta, which seized power in a February 1 coup, ousting the civilian government and arresting its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Protests have increased weekly across Myanmar since the coup. U.N. investigator Thomas Andrews said on Thursday that there were credible reports the country's security forces had "murdered at least 70 people" since the the junta's takeover. Police have repeatedly opened fire with tear gas, rubber bullets, sling shots and live ammunition. 

People attend the funeral of Chit Min Thu, who died in an anti-coup protest in North Dagon Township in Yangon
People attend the funeral of Chit Min Thu, who died in an anti-coup protest in North Dagon Township, in Yangon, Myanmar, March 11, 2021. STRINGER/REUTERS

The Council's statement expressed "deep concern at developments in Myanmar following the declaration of the state of emergency imposed by the military on 1 February and the arbitrary detention of members of the Government, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and others."

The Council called for their immediate release and "for the immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily." The statement also conveyed "deep concern" at restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, labor union members, and the press and said "recent developments pose particular serious challenges for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons."

Although the Council's statement did not use the word "coup" in describing the military's takeover, it said it "expresses its continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar, and stresses the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law."

An earlier draft of the statement, which was written by the U.K.'s delegation to the U.N., had called the events a "coup" and included language that implied the threat of possible measures against Myanmar's rulers in the future, but Russia, China, India, and Vietnam wanted that language removed, according to diplomats involved in the negotiations. 

MYANMAR-POLITICS-MILITARY
Residents look on as soldiers block a road after arriving to arrest railway staff involved in a protest against the military coup, at Mahlwagone Railway Station in Yangon, March 10, 2021. STR/AFP/Getty

The statement was adopted as a "presidential statement" which, unlike a U.N. Resolution, is non-binding. There has been no proposal for a Resolution by the Security Council yet to impose multilateral sanctions on Myanmar's junta, though many countries, including the U.S., have done so unilaterally.

"It is a win for the U.K. and the U.S., although the practical impact may be limited," analyst Richard Gowan, U.N. Director for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, told CBS News. He said the statement was specifically a win for Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden's new ambassador to the U.N., "who has made it quite clear she needs the U.N. to deliver on Myanmar."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appeared reassured that the Council had managed to deliver a unanimous message. 

"I hope that with this statement, there will be an increasing conscience in the military in Myanmar that it is absolutely essential to release all prisoners," he said.

Unrest continues after coup in Myanmar 06:19

"It is important the Council members speak in one voice," China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said after the vote to adopt the statement. "It's time for diplomacy. It's time for dialogue." 

The Security Council has been largely paralyzed for years, with China and Russia often wielding their veto power as permanent members to block resolutions - and even unanimous statements like the one issued Wednesday on Myanmar - proposed by the U.S. and its European allies. The internal divisions have stymied any serious response by the Council to crises, including those in Syria and Yemen, and over Russia's own alleged persecution of dissidents.

There was, however, no immediate change in tack by the military rulers. Medics told the French news agency AFP that six more protesters were killed Thursday in the central Myaing township — five of them shot in the head. More than 2,000 people have been detained by Myanmar's security forces since the protests began.

Myanmar's pro-democracy protesters in the streets have begged for weeks for the international community to take more tangible action against the junta.

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced more sanctions against the military rulers and their family members, adding to measures introduced earlier this month.

"The leaders of the coup, and their adult family members, should not be able to continue to derive benefits from the regime as it resorts to violence and tightens its stranglehold on democracy," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing the new sanctions against adult children of military commanders. "We will continue to work with a broad coalition of international partners to promote accountability for coup leaders, those responsible for this violence and other abuses, and those who benefit financially from the regime. We will not hesitate to take further action against those who instigate violence and suppress the will of the people." 

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