US, Indonesia to ASEAN: Act Urgently on Myanmar, Talk to All Parties

Busaba Sivasomboon and Tria Dianti
Bangkok and Jakarta
US, Indonesia to ASEAN:  Act Urgently on Myanmar, Talk to All Parties Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (left) meets her Association of Southeast Asian Nations counterparts ahead of an ASEAN summit on the Myanmar crisis, in Jakarta, April 23, 2021

ASEAN should speed up diplomatic efforts on Myanmar, top U.S. and Indonesian diplomats said Wednesday amid indications that some officials from the Southeast Asian bloc may travel to the strife-torn country this week.

Wendy Sherman, America’s second-highest ranking diplomat, said action by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was urgently needed to deal with the crisis in Myanmar, where the military has unleashed violence on pro-democracy protesters after it toppled an elected government four months ago. 

“We know that ASEAN is consulting with all in the region as wanting to be successful in the narrative and engagement. They should be in contact with the military leaders in Burma as well as all democratic parties in Burma. We hope that happens as soon as possible,” Sherman, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, told reporters in Bangkok.

“There is no time to waste, as we all see the humanitarian crisis for the people in Burma,” she said at the end of a tour of three Southeast Asian countries – Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand.

During Sherman’s meetings in Bangkok on Wednesday, the issue of Myanmar came up during her meetings with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai that touched on a range of bilateral topics, according to the U.S. embassy and Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While in Bangkok, Sherman also met with representatives of international and non-governmental organizations to discuss humanitarian assistance for people displaced by the post-coup violence in Myanmar, the embassy said in a statement.

“As she did in meetings with the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, the Deputy Secretary affirmed the United States’ call for an end to violence and an immediate return to democracy for the people of Burma at each of her meetings in Bangkok,” according to the embassy.

In Jakarta on Wednesday, the top diplomat of ASEAN founding member-state Indonesia said the bloc needed to appoint an envoy to Myanmar quickly to begin implementing a five-point consensus, which leaders of the 10-nation association had reached at a special summit in late April.

“The appointment of a special envoy must be immediately made and communication among all parties must start,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after she met with European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell in Jakarta.

In April, ASEAN leaders agreed to this consensus on Myanmar that, among other things, called for an envoy of the bloc to be sent to the troubled country. But more than a month later, ASEAN has made no visible progress in naming an envoy.

Myanmar’s military government also has ignored the consensus that it was a party to when Naypyidaw’s junta chief attended the summit in Jakarta.

The April 24 meeting did not include representatives from the parallel civilian government in Myanmar or any lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government, an omission that human rights slammed.  

It is essential that ASEAN representatives meet with civil-society leaders in Myanmar, if a delegation from the bloc visits that country this week, as some news reports indicated, a group of Southeast Asian MPs said.

“If ASEAN only meets with the military it risks, once again, playing into the junta’s public relations exercise and granting them legitimacy, when all they deserve is admonition,” Charles Santiago, a Malaysian lawmaker and chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement Tuesday.

More than 800 civilians have been killed by military and police in Myanmar during the near-daily anti-junta protests since the Feb. 1 coup, according to rights groups.

Earlier this week, Sherman held talks with Retno and ASEAN officials in Jakarta and supported ASEAN’s five-point consensus. The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Borrell, also told Indonesia on Wednesday that the European bloc backed ASEAN’s efforts.

“I am very sorry that the situation there is not resolved, but if someone can help it is ASEAN, and within ASEAN there is Indonesia,” Borrell said.


Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (right), talks with European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell in Jakarta, June 2, 2021. [Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP]

Meanwhile, Indonesian officials declined to confirm a report that ASEAN Chair Erywan Yusof, of Brunei, and Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi were planning to travel to Myanmar this week to meet with junta leaders and other stakeholders.

“That’s what I heard, but I have no details,” Ade Padmo Sarwono, the Indonesian ambassador to ASEAN, told BenarNews on Wednesday.

The Myanmar junta’s spokesperson did not return calls for comment from the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), with which BenarNews is affiliated. A foreign ministry spokesperson told RFA he was not authorized to comment on the matter.

A former NLD lawmaker, Myint Htwe, said he held out no special hopes from a potential ASEAN officials’ visit to Myanmar.

“Since we will continue working with our domestic R2P, we will not ask for any help from any foreign country. We have realized we have to do it unitedly ourselves, regardless of whether ASEAN leaders come or not,” Myint Htwe told RFA, referring to the right to protect from crimes against humanity.

Another former lawmaker, Pe Than, from the Rakhine National Party, told RFA he believed a potential visit by ASEAN officials “is a step to implement the decision of the ASEAN Summit.”

But Evan Laksmana, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said such a trip would not be the start of the five-point consensus’ implementation.

“At best, the visit is a *preparation* to implement the consensus,” Laksmana said via Twitter.

Another analyst, Bill Hayton of British think-tank Chatham House, said that if Myanmar had agreed to a visit by ASEAN officials, it was in exchange for what the bloc did for the junta at the United Nations.

“So this [visit] looks like the quid pro quo for ASEAN states protecting Myanmar from the arms embargo resolution at the UNGA last week,” said Hayton, an associate fellow at the think-tank’s Asia-pacific Program.

International rights groups and political analysts roundly criticized ASEAN for trying to water down a U.N. resolution that included a clause calling for a halt to military arms sales to Myanmar, a development first reported by BenarNews last week.

In a letter, ASEAN member states – minus Myanmar – asked countries sponsoring a draft U.N. General Assembly resolution on Myanmar, to omit a sentence that calls for an arm embargo on Myanmar, according to a diplomat from Liechtenstein, a co-sponsor of the document.

Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry, declined to confirm the letter, but acknowledged that ASEAN members had conflicting views on ending arms sales to the Myanmar military.

“During the discussions [at the U.N.], it was clear that there were wide differences in views among U.N. member countries, including among ASEAN countries,” he told BenarNews on Tuesday.

Similar differences among ASEAN members may be the reason the bloc has not yet named an envoy to Myanmar, Teuku Rezasyah, an international relations lecturer at Indonesia’s Padjadjaran University, told BenarNews.

“The best candidates in the eyes of ASEAN will not necessarily sit well with Myanmar,” he told BenarNews.

The Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia contributed to this report.


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