Myanmar's election reflected people's will, monitoring group says
Myanmar's election last year reflected the will of the people and the army was unjustified in using alleged flaws as a reason to seize power, an international monitoring group said on May 17 in its final report.
The Feb. 1 coup cut short a decade of tentative democratic reforms and led to the arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party had swept the Nov. 8 election.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), one of two accredited foreign election observer missions, said voting was not as free and fair as it had been in the previous ballot in 2015 - in part because of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Nevertheless, it is ANFREL's informed opinion that the results of the 2020 general elections were, by and large, representative of the will of the people of Myanmar," the report said.
"Despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, 27.5 million people voted thanks to the hard work of polling staff and election or health officials; their voices cannot be silenced."
Reuters was not immediately able to reach a junta spokesman for comment.
The army said it had discovered major violations of the election, in which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy trounced a pro-military party.
It said it took power after the electoral commission dismissed its accusations and will hold new elections within two years.
ANFREL, which said it had election observers in 13 of Myanmar's 14 states and regions, described the military's seizure of power as "indefensible".
The coup plunged Myanmar into chaos with daily protests, strikes and the emergence of anti-junta militias. Security forces have killed at least 796 people since the coup, an activist group says. The army disputes the figure.
The U.S.-based Carter Center, which also observed last year's election, had said "voters were able to freely express their will."
Six opposition rebels have been killed after days of clashes in Myanmar, an anti-junta defence force made up of civilians said on May 16, as Britain and the United States condemned the military's violence against civilians.
Pope Francis on May 16 called for an end to the bloodshed and for people to "keep the faith" in a mass in honour of Myanmar in the Vatican City.
And as security forces deploy live ammunition against civilians, some in the anti-junta movement have set up local militias armed with home-made weapons to protect their towns.
In the western state of Chin, the town of Mindat has emerged as a hotspot for unrest, where some residents have formed the Chinland Defence Force (CDF).
"Six members of our CDF who tried to protect the security of the people in Mindat attacked (junta forces) and sacrificed their lives for the national revolution," said a CDF statement on Sunday.
A spokesman also told AFP that over 10 members have been wounded this week, while five Mindat residents were arrested by the military.
With mobile data blocked across the country, details about the fighting have been slow to come out, and on-the-ground verification is made harder as locals are fearful of retaliation.
The spokesman, who declined to be named, said CDF fighters set fire to several army trucks, destroying them, and ambushed reinforcement troops, while the military has attacked the town with artillery.
By May 16, the CDF had retreated into the jungle, he said.
"We will not stay any more in the town... but we will come back to attack soon," he said. "We only have home-made guns. This was not enough."
He added that residents remaining in Mindat - which has been under martial law since Thursday - were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being targeted by the military.