Asean presses junta to open dialogue

Orderly protest: School teachers in their uniforms and traditional hats taking part in a demonstration in Mandalay as protesters in Myanmar take to the streets again. — AP

INDONESIA stepped up pressure on Myanmar’s coup leaders to respect Asean principles and the will of the people of Myanmar, as the bloc appealed for open dialogue among all parties concerned during an eagerly anticipated regional meeting.

Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, overthrew the country’s democratically elected civilian government last month, detaining leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) over unfounded claims of election fraud.

Suu Kyi has since been charged with several criminal offences that many observers consider politically motivated.

At the informal Asean ministerial meeting on Tuesday, which saw member states’ foreign ministers and the bloc’s secretary-general address Myanmar junta representative Wunna Maung Lwin, Indonesia reiterated its deep concern about the escalating conflict and called for Myanmar’s security forces to exercise restraint as waves of demonstrations continued on Tuesday.

At least 18 people were killed on Sunday, according to the United Nations, while more than 1,000 people are believed to have been detained, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi called for humanitarian access to all people in need and the release of political prisoners.

She urged the junta to restore democracy and normalcy in the interests of the people of Myanmar.

“Democracy guarantees freedom of opinion. Democracy advocates communication and dialogue, ” she said, while keeping the door open for Asean to play a bigger role through humanitarian efforts.

The existing Asean ad hoc task force for the Rakhine crisis in Myanmar, she said, could be strengthened and even expanded to provide pandemic assistance.

“Internal direct communication among stakeholders in Myanmar is always the best option. However, Indonesia is certain that Asean stands ready to play its role when required, ” the minister said.

With opinions within the bloc split on whether Asean’s involvement in the crisis would violate its principle of non-interference, Retno insisted that the principle be treated with the same commitment as the other values enshrined in the Asean Charter.

“Respecting the principle of noninterference is a must. I am sure that not a single Asean country has the intention of violating this principle. At the same time, upholding and implementing the values of democracy, respect for human rights, good governance, the rule of law and constitutional government are equally important, ” she said.

She warned that if Asean failed to respect the charter, the organisation would not be able to serve its people and the Asean community building project would be threatened. In a statement issued late on Tuesday, Asean chair Brunei noted that the foreign ministers had expressed their concerns about the situation in Myanmar and had called on all parties to refrain from further violence.

“We expressed Asean’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner, ” read the statement, which also mentioned calls for the release of political detainees and for the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy to engage with the parties in question.

Experts have also piled on the pressure as Asean seeks to step up to the challenge of mediating the political crisis.

Lina Alexandra, a senior researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Department of International Relations, said Asean could not claim it was a people-oriented organisation if people’s security was currently under threat in Myanmar.

“The international community is watching – and not just for Myanmar... You cannot guarantee your legitimacy by killing your own people, and that also goes for the reputation of Asean itself, ” she told The Jakarta Post. — Eleven Media Group/ANN

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coup , Junta , protest , Asean


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