ASEAN ministers prepare for Myanmar talks over escalating violence

Protest against the military coup in Yangon
Protesters wearing masks depicting ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, flash three-finger salutes as they take part in a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

BANGKOK: Amid escalating violence in Myanmar after the February 1 coup, the Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday prepared for a special meeting with the country’s ruling military to open a channel to tackle its escalating political crisis, reported Bangkok Post.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said his counterparts in ASEAN would be frank when they meet by video call on Tuesday and will tell a representative of Myanmar’s military they are appalled by the violence.

In a television interview late on Monday, he said Asean would encourage dialogue between Suu Kyi and the junta. “There is the political leadership … and there is the military leadership, on the other hand. They need to talk, and we need to help bring them together,” he said.

The talks will come two days after the bloodiest day of unrest since the military removed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government a month ago, unleashing anger and mass street protests across Myanmar.

The streets were largely quiet in the biggest city Yangon early on Tuesday ahead of what protesters said would be another big demonstration. Several shopping malls announced closures due to the unrest, some in places where protests have taken place.

ASEAN groups Myanmar, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. However, ASEAN’s effort to engage with Myanmar’s military was met with a fierce rebuke from groups in the anti-coup movement, including a committee of ousted lawmakers that have declared the junta a “terrorist” group.

Sa Sa, the committee’s anointed envoy to the United Nations, said ASEAN should have no dealings with “this illegitimate military-led regime”, reported Bangkok Post. The alumni of ASEAN youth programmes in Myanmar said the bloc should be talking to the international representatives of Suu Kyi’s administration, not to the regime. “ASEAN must understand that the coup or the re-election promised by the military junta is utterly unacceptable to the people of Myanmar,” it said in a letter to the ASEAN.

Meanwhile, Philippine Foreign Minister, Teodoro Locsin, indicated on Twitter that ASEAN would be firm with Myanmar and said its policy of non-interference in a member’s internal affairs “is not a blanket approval or tacit consent for wrong to be done there”, reported Bangkok Post.

Earlier, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at a court hearing via video conferencing on Monday and looked in good health during her appearance before a court, one of her lawyers said. Two more charges were added to those filed against her after the coup, she said.

Hundreds of people have been arrested since the coup, according to activists, the latest a journalist for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), who live-streamed security forces outside his apartment on Monday in the coastal town of Myeik, where he had been filming protests. DVB confirmed the arrest, Bangkok Post reported.

The US had warned Myanmar’s military rulers on Monday that it would take more action if security forces kill unarmed people and attack journalists and activists, which State Department spokesman Ned Price called “abhorrent violence”.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was preparing further costs on those responsible for the coup. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Monday she hoped to use Washington’s presidency of the United Nations Security Council in March to push for more “intense discussions” on Myanmar.

The military coup of February 1 has halted Myanmar’s tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule and has drawn condemnation and sanctions from the United States and other Western countries, and growing concern among its neighbours. (ANI)