Protests in Myanmar amid flurry of Southeast Asian diplomacy

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi trying to build regional coalition on coup, as military’s top diplomat heads to Thailand.

Protests are expected to continue in Myanmar on Wednesday as Indonesia steps up diplomatic efforts to resolve the political crisis [AP Photo]
Protests are expected to continue in Myanmar on Wednesday as Indonesia steps up diplomatic efforts to resolve the political crisis [AP Photo]

Protests against the coup continued in Myanmar on Wednesday with people gathering outside the embassies of Indonesia and Thailand, amid fears a flurry of diplomacy to build a regional coalition to steer a path out of the country’s political crisis could give the generals’ power grab legitimacy.

Wunna Maung Lwin, Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister, flew to Bangkok for talks on diplomatic efforts by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a source in Thailand told Reuters news agency.

Indonesia has been rallying support for a special ASEAN meeting on the coup, but said on Wednesday Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, would not visit Myanmar this week.

The 10-member organisation, which Myanmar joined in 1997, has a policy of non-interference in each other’s affairs and decision by consensus.

“After taking into account the current development and the input of other ASEAN countries this is not the ideal time to conduct a visit to Myanmar,” Indonesian Foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told a news briefing. A spokesman on Tuesday said Retno was in Thailand.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Myanmar on Monday amid a general strike to condemn the February 1 coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, despite threats from authorities that confrontation could get people killed.

Gatherings were smaller on Wednesday, but groups turned out in front of the embassies of Indonesia and Thailand and calls went out on social media urging ASEAN, which Myanmar joined in 1997 under a previous military regime, not to give the coup leaders legitimacy by visiting the country.

Groups from Myanmar’s different ethnic minorities also came out onto the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, on Wednesday.

“We ethnic minority people haven’t had the chance to demand our rights but now we do,” said San Aung Li, 26, a member of the Kachin minority.

“So I’m supporting the protest as all ethnic people are, with one voice.”

Some pro-democracy activists are worried diplomacy with the generals could undermine their demand that the results of the November polls, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide, be respected.

The generals have claimed fraud in the election, although the elections commission has found no evidence, and said they will hold new polls at an unspecified date. They have declared a state of emergency for a year.

The Future Nation Alliance, a Myanmar-based activist group, said in a statement a visit by Retno would be “tantamount to recognising the military junta”.

The group demanded instead that foreign officials meet Htin Lin Aung, a representative of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), established by overthrown legislators, who has been appointed the “sole responsible official for foreign relations”.

Protesters outside the Indonesia embassy in Bangkok urged Southeast Asian diplomats to respect the results of Myanmar’s November election [Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]

‘Intimidation’

The Group of Seven (G7) rich nations on Tuesday condemned the intimidation and oppression of those opposing the coup following the deaths of two protesters over the weekend.

“Anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account,” the group’s foreign ministers said in a joint statement.

The army has detained Aung San Suu Kyi and most of the party leadership, as well as members of the electoral commission. It has also imposed nightly internet blackouts for the past 10 days.

A group of more than 130 human rights and civil society groups from 31 countries on Wednesday released an open letter calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar.

“The Myanmar military poses a demonstrable threat to international peace and security,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, which signed the letter. “The Security Council should break its long history of inaction on Myanmar and immediately respond to this crisis.”

Military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in a meeting with his ruling council on Monday, generally avoided discussion on the massive protests against the coup, insisting that the police were using minimal force, such as rubber-coated bullets, to deal with the daily demonstrations, according to state media.

Security forces have so far shown more restraint than during earlier protests.

In 1988 and 2007, people who pushed for democracy were met with brutal force.

Even so, three protesters have been shot and killed. The army has said one policeman died of injuries sustained during the protests.

The military has accused protesters of provoking violence but United Nations Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said the millions who marched on Monday in a “breathtaking” turnout showed they were prepared to face up to military threats.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which is tracking detentions, said critics of the military continued to be rounded up on Tuesday with a total of 696 people now having been arrested, charged or sentenced since the generals seized power. All but 50 remain in detention.

People have continued to turn out in huge numbers to show their opposition to the coup despite the threat of violence [Reuters]
Western nations have sought to increase pressure on the generals this week with the European Union warning it was considering sanctions aimed at businesses owned by the army.

The United States imposed sanctions on two more military officers involved in the coup and warned it could take more action.

Neighbouring China, which has traditionally taken a softer line, said any international action should contribute to stability, promote reconciliation and avoid complicating the situation, media reported.

Source : Al Jazeera, Reuters

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