Myanmar’s military government announced on Monday an extension of a state of emergency for another six months until Feb. 1, 2023, saying the country needed more time to restore stability and do the spadework for fresh elections.
The head of Myanmar's military Junta stated instability as the reason for stalling efforts to implement a peace plan agreed with other Southeast Asian countries as he extended the emergency rule.
In February 2021, the Junta first declared a state of emergency after seizing power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup.
Since then, Myanmar has been in chaos, with rampant conflicts after the army pulverised peaceful protests in towns and cities.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a political and economic bloc to promote intergovernmental cooperation amongst its member nations, agreed a five-point "consensus" to end hostilities last year.
The plan that never saw the light of day was a roadmap to end the violence through dialogue.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech aired on state media that Myanmar had been striving to overcome the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic while facing internal chaos.
"So, it was difficult to implement the ASEAN consensus due to the lack of stability," said Min Aung Hlaing, adding that only when the situation was "normal" could progress be made.
Western governments condemned the coup and the detention on various charges of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and numerous members of her party and supporters.
Some members of ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member and which has a tradition of non-interference in each other's internal affairs, also criticised the generals.
While the Junta has failed to implement the ASEAN plan, it has never rejected it. "Our country is an ASEAN state so we value the conventions of ASEAN," Min Aung Hlaing said.
The Junta said it had to seize power last year because of voting fraud in a November 2020 general election that Suu Kyi's party easily won. Election monitoring groups found no evidence of mass fraud.
The military has guaranteed new elections in August 2023 though opponents do not believe it would be free and fair.
According to the Assistance Association for political prisoners, a human rights organisation, Security forces have already killed more than 2,100 people since the coup. The Junta on the other hand has said that the numbers were being overplayed.
The true picture of the violence has become murky since lightly armed People's Defence Forces have sprung up to take on the army. Their operations take place in more remote areas where ethnic minority insurgents are also fighting the military.
In his speech, Min Aung Hlaing blamed “terrorists” for inflicting casualties. These “terrorist” as per the Junta are its armed opponents and a rival shadow National Unity government, a flagbearer of democracy.
The Junta has faced several sanctions from many Western countries. Especially last week after the execution of four democracy activists it accused of "terror acts".
Min Aung Hlaing also focused on the economic deterioration of the country. "I think progress can be seen within six months," he said, citing the prospect of more jobs and a focus on farming.
The World Bank projects Myanmar's economy will grow only 3% this fiscal year following an 18% contraction last year.
It also said that a return to pre-pandemic levels was unlikely in the near term for Myanmar.
(WIth inputs from agencies)