Indonesia, Singapore condemn Myanmar attack on ASEAN aid convoy

But Indonesian president says ASEAN’s efforts to bring peace to Myanmar will continue.
By RFA Burmese and BenarNews Staff
Indonesia, Singapore condemn Myanmar attack on ASEAN aid convoy An internally displaced persons camp in Hsihseng township destroyed by strong winds on April 25, 2023.
Citizen journalist

UPDATED at 4:50 p.m. EDT on May 9, 2023.

Indonesia and Singapore on Monday condemned an armed attack on an ASEAN humanitarian convoy in eastern Myanmar’s Shan State and called for an end to violence in the strife-hit country.

Diplomats from both Southeast Asian countries were traveling with the convoy that was caught in gunfire on Sunday in Hsihseng township. There were no reports of injuries in the shooting, which the Myanmar military blamed on anti-junta forces. The opposition to the junta denied any involvement.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, said the violence would not deter his country in its efforts as this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to try to bring peace to Myanmar.

He was speaking in the Indonesian town of Labuan Bajo ahead of a three-day ASEAN summit which starts Tuesday. The conflict in Myanmar is likely to be one of the main topics of the summit.

“This will not diminish ASEAN’s and Indonesia’s determination to call for an end to the use of force and violence,” Jokowi said. “Stop the violence because civilians have become victims. Let us sit together and start a dialogue.”

He said that members of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre), accompanied by an ASEAN monitoring team “was delivering humanitarian aid but unfortunately there was a shootout on the way.” He gave no further details.

'Constructive dialogue'

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said that two staff of the Singaporean Embassy were in the convoy and had returned safely to Yangon.

“Singapore condemns this attack. It is critical to safeguard the safety of humanitarian and diplomatic personnel, to ensure that they can continue their operations and provide necessary aid to those in need,” an unnamed ministry spokesperson said in a statement that urged all parties to refrain from violence.

“Only constructive dialogue among all key stakeholders in Myanmar can facilitate a peaceful solution in the interests of the people of Myanmar,” the spokesperson said.

There were also two diplomats from the Embassy of Indonesia, three AHA Centre officials and several junta administrative workers in the convoy, according to local residents, who did not want to be named for safety reasons.

Myanmar’s junta, which took power in a February 2021 coup that has precipitated fighting across large swathes of the country, blamed “terrorists” for the attack. It said one security vehicle was hit by small arms fire. It said that security forces of the convoy opened fire in response and the attackers retreated.

The convoy was heading to the Hsihseng-based Pa-O National Liberation Army (PNLO) Liaison Office from the Shan State capital of Taunggyi to discuss assistance for internally displaced persons (IDPs) but was forced to turn back, the residents said.

Conflicting accounts

There were conflicting accounts of who opened fire on the convoy, which was traveling in an area where rival forces operate.

An official from the Pa-O National Organization (PNO), which is allied to the junta, claimed that five members of the rival PNLO had launched the attack. The official did not want to be named, citing security reasons. 

But PNLO leader Khun Okkar denied it. He said some of the group’s own officials were in the convoy so it had no motive to carry out the attack. “It was impossible that PNLO attacked its own officials,” Khun Okkar told RFA Burmese. 

“This incident was caused by a political rivalry in our region,” he said, suggesting that a local militia allied to the junta was responsible, but declining to name it.

The PNLO itself is party to a 2015 national ceasefire agreement reached with a previous pro-military government in Myanmar.

Naing Htoo Aung, secretary of the Ministry of Defense in the anti-junta National Unity Government, also claimed pro-junta militia were to blame. 

He told the NUG’s news agency that “the NUG, PDF and revolutionary forces had absolutely nothing to do with the attack on the convoy carrying the diplomats.” PDF stands for People’s Defense Force – the name used by militia forces across Myanmar that are battling the military.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Friday her country has been quietly engaging with the State Administration Council – as the junta regime is formally known –  along with the NUG and ethnic armed organizations in its role as ASEAN chair this year.

She said the more than 60 engagements this year, which also included talks with the European Union, Japan, the United Nations and the United States, aimed to build trust “with non-megaphone diplomacy.”

While ASEAN leaders are expected to discuss Myanmar at this week’s summit, junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is not invited. He’s been excluded from ASEAN summits following his military takeover against a civilian government, which has triggered protests then blood fighting that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Two years ago, ASEAN’s agreed upon a five-point plan to bring peace to Myanmar but its terms have been largely ignored by the junta.

The Indonesian president said Monday that ASEAN may struggle to get buy-in from the junta but he wasn’t giving up hope.

“The situation in Myanmar is complex and Indonesia continues to push for the implementation of the five-point consensus. Various efforts have been made,” Jokowi said.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn and Mat Pennington.

BenarNews journalist Ahmad Syamsudin in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

This story has been updated to clarify the description of the PNLO.


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