ASEAN Foreign Ministers to Hold Meeting to Discuss Myanmar Crisis

Ronna Nirmala
Jakarta
2021-03-01
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ASEAN Foreign Ministers to Hold Meeting to Discuss Myanmar Crisis Protesters run during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, March 1, 2021.
[AFP]

Updated at 7:47 p.m. ET on 2021-03-01

Southeast Asian foreign ministers will hold a special meeting on Tuesday on the political crisis in Myanmar, the Indonesian foreign ministry said, as the regional and international community condemned a deadly weekend crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.

The online meeting was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Jakarta time (8 a.m. GMT) and would be hosted by Brunei, this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said on Monday.

“We are making preparations for the meeting,” Faizasyah told BenarNews.

Indonesia and Malaysia were the first ASEAN nations to call for such a meeting on the Myanmar military’s ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.

“A special ASEAN foreign ministers meeting will be convened via video conference tomorrow and where we will listen to the representative of the Myanmar military authorities,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in parliament on Monday, according to a transcript of his remarks on the foreign ministry website.

"We therefore call on all parties in Myanmar to engage in discussions and to negotiate in good faith, to pursue a long-term peaceful political solution to achieve national reconciliation, including a return to the path of democratic transition. And we believe this can only begin if President U Win Myint, State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, and the other political detainees are immediately released," he added.

On Sunday, Myanmar clearly ignored Indonesia’s recent call to exercise restraint and avoid bloodshed.

At least 18 people were killed and more than 30 wounded on Sunday across Myanmar, as security forces shot flash-bang and stun grenades and fired live and rubber bullets at protesters.

The violence occurred days after Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told her Myanmar counterpart in a face-to-face meeting in Bangkok that the safety and well-being of the Myanmar people was “an utmost priority.”

Following Sunday’s bloodshed, Indonesia said it was “extremely concerned about the escalating violence in Myanmar,” in a rare comment by an ASEAN country on the internal affairs of a fellow member of the 10-nation group,

“Indonesia calls on security forces to exercise restraint and not to resort to violence to avoid further loss of lives and prevent the situation from worsening,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

'Inexcusable' use of lethal force on civilians

Other ASEAN neighbors on Monday also joined calls for an end to violence in Myanmar.

“We are deeply concerned over the loss of innocent lives and injuries during the ongoing situation in Myanmar,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement.

“All relevant parties must exercise utmost restraint from the use of violence that could affect the safety of members of the public and further escalate the situation in the country,” he said, after talks with his Brunei counterpart Erywan Yusof in Bandar Sri Begawan.

Amid criticism that ASEAN countries are not taking a uniform and strong stand on the Myanmar coup, Hishammuddin said the regional bloc must play “a more proactive role” to contribute toward the return to normalcy in the country.

“It is crucial that ASEAN leads a sincere discussion and constructively engages with Myanmar and all stakeholders to show that ASEAN is effective as a cohesive regional grouping, in addressing the expectations of our external partners, and in avoiding unnecessary unilateral responses that may affect the region unfavorably,” he said.

Myanmar’s use of lethal force against civilians, was “inexcusable,” Singapore's top diplomat, Balakrishnan, said in parliament on Monday, according to regional media.

“We are appalled by the violence and we will say that tomorrow,” the minister said in an interview on Mediacorp Channel 5’s News Tonight, about Tuesday’s scheduled meeting.

ASEAN foreign ministers will remind the Myanmar military that the coup will cause “grievous damage” to the country, Balakrishnan said.

Retno and her Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai met in Bangkok last Wednesday with the Myanmar junta’s foreign envoy, Wunna Maung Lwin, prompting criticism from activists who said that doing so gave legitimacy to the generals in Naypyidaw.

Retno defended the meeting, saying “to do nothing is not an option.”

Singapore’s Balakrishnan said that ASEAN can play a constructive role in helping a return to normalcy and stability in Myanmar even though the bloc’s foundational principle is non-interference.

Still, this could only work if Myanmar’s junta releases Suu Kyi and other political detainees, Balakrishnan said.

More than 1,100 people have been arrested, charged and sentenced since the military declared a state of emergency a month ago, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

US condemns 'abhorrent violence'

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres “strongly condemned” the Myanmar violence.

“The Secretary-General urges the international community to come together and send a clear signal to the military that it must respect the will of the people of Myanmar as expressed through the election and stop the repression,” Stephane Dujarric, Guterres’ spokesman, said in a statement on Sunday.

Myanmar’s people have the right to assemble peacefully and demand the restoration of democracy, U.N. Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Sunday.

“These fundamental rights must be respected by the military and police, not met with violence and bloody oppression,” she said.

Meanwhile, the United States may impose additional sanctions on those responsible for the violence in Myanmar, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Sunday.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Feb. 11 had announced financial sanctions against “ten individuals and three entities connected to the military apparatus responsible for the coup.”

“We will continue coordinating closely with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world to hold those responsible for violence to account, and to reinforce our support for the people of Burma,” Sullivan said on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the “abhorrent violence” by Myanmar's security forces against the protesters.

We “will continue to promote accountability for those responsible,” Blinken said on Twitter.

The Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, and Muzliza Mustafa in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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