Preventing breaks out in Myanmar. Junta to “study” the ASEAN plan

Fighting erupted in eastern Myanmar near the Thai border early Tuesday when ethnic minority Karen insurgents attacked an army outpost in some of the most violent clashes since a February 1 coup that plunged Myanmar into crisis.

The clash came when, in an apparent setback to an attempt by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to end Myanmar’s turmoil, the junta said it would “positively” consider the bloc’s proposals made at a weekend meeting in Indonesia.

Southeast Asian leaders said over the weekend they had reached a consensus with the junta on steps to end the violence and promote dialogue between rival Myanmar sides.

The Karen National Union (KNU), Myanmar’s oldest rebel force, said it had captured the army camp on the west bank of the Salween River, which forms the border with Thailand in the region.

Villagers on the Thai side of the river said heavy gunfire began before sunrise. Videos posted on social media showed flames and smoke on the forested hills.

KNU forces captured the outpost around 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. (10:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. GMT), foreign affairs group leader Saw Taw Nee told Reuters.

He said the camp was occupied and burned down and the group was still looking for deaths and victims. The spokesman said there had been fights in other locations as well, but did not provide details.

The Karen Information Center media group said the military base had been overrun. It was said that the villagers saw seven soldiers run away.

Myanmar’s army made no immediate comment. It has historically identified itself as the only institution able to hold the ethnically diverse country of more than 53 million people together, despite the fact that much of Myanmar has rallied against its coup.

The military base on the Thai border was largely surrounded by KNU forces, and according to Thai villagers who had contact with the soldiers, food had become scarce in the past few weeks.

A Thai official in Mae Hong Son province said one person was slightly wounded during the fighting in Thailand.

The KNU agreed to a ceasefire in 2012, ending the autonomy revolt that began shortly after Myanmar gained independence from Great Britain in 1948.

But their forces have clashed with the army since it seized power and canceled a decade of democratic reforms that brought relative peace to Myanmar’s volatile border areas.

‘CAREFUL CONSIDERATION’

About 24,000 people displaced by violence, including military air strikes, in the past few weeks are protecting themselves in the jungle, Karen groups say.

Myanmar’s main ethnic minority forces in border regions supported the largely urban, pro-democracy opponents of the junta, whose security forces killed more than 750 civilians who protested the coup, according to a group of activists.

Elsewhere in Myanmar, there have been relatively few reports of bloodshed in an attempt to find a way out of the crisis since junta leader Min Aung Hlaing met with Southeast Asian leaders over the weekend.

In its first official comment on the meeting, the junta said it would “carefully consider constructive proposals … when the situation becomes stable”.

The proposals would be “positively assessed” if they would facilitate the junta’s own “roadmap” and “serve the interests of the country and are based on the purposes and principles enshrined in ASEAN,” it said in a statement.

The junta did not refer to any of ASEAN’s long-cherished principles of not interfering in each other’s affairs.

After the weekend meeting, ASEAN issued what is known as a five-point consensus on steps to end the violence and initiate talks between rivals in Myanmar.

Activists criticized the plan on the grounds that it helped legitimize the junta and left its demands far behind.

In particular, there was no explicit request for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, and other political prisoners. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said more than 3,400 people were arrested for rejecting the coup.

Suu Kyi’s party won a second term in November. The electoral commission said the vote was fair, but the military said electoral fraud forced it to take power.

The Myanmar media reported that at least one man was shot dead in Mandalay city on Monday. The circumstances were unclear.

The protesters have vowed to step up crackdown on the junta and urged people to stop paying utility bills and farm loans and to keep their children away from school.

“Education staff and students are urged to join the boycott and stand together by not going to school,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung wrote on social media.

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