In First Post-coup Diplomatic Encounters, Myanmar Envoy Meets Thai, Indonesian Officials

2021-02-24
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In First Post-coup Diplomatic Encounters, Myanmar Envoy Meets Thai, Indonesian Officials Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi (left) talks with Myanmar foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin as Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai listens, during a meeting at the Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Feb. 24, 2021.
Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Reuters

Updated at 3 p.m. ET on 2021-02-24

Myanmar must listen to its people, Indonesia’s top diplomat told her counterpart from Naypyidaw in Bangkok on Wednesday, as they held the first known face-to-face meetings between a senior junta member and foreign governments since the Feb. 1 Myanmar coup.

Foreign ministers Retno Marsudi of Indonesia, Don Pramudwinai of Thailand and Wunna Maung Lwin met briefly at Don Mueang International Airport after her planned trip to Myanmar had to be postponed, she told an online press conference after the gathering.

Retno said she told Wunna Maung Lwin that “the wishes of the Myanmar people must be heard,” and called for “an inclusive democratic transition process.”

“[W]e need to create a conducive situation through dialogue, reconciliation, and trust-building,” she said. “The safety and welfare of the people of Myanmar is of paramount importance.”

She called on all parties to refrain from violence and urged the military rulers to allow “humanitarian access and visits to detainees.”

Retno said she was also in “intensive” communication with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, or CRPH, a shadow parliament formed by Burmese lawmakers elected in the November 2020 vote, which the junta claims was marred by fraud.

Myanmar’s envoy also met Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha in a closed-door session on Wednesday.

“We, as friends, have to listen to one another. However, [we] give them moral support,” Prayuth told reporters after the meeting.

“As an ASEAN country, we have to encourage cooperation and offer good wishes that everything [in Myanmar] comes back to normalcy,” he said. 

Myanmar trip ‘postponed’

Indonesia, the largest country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and a founding member of the bloc, has been on a diplomatic push to get neighboring countries more involved in addressing the coup in Myanmar. Last week, Retno visited Brunei, this year’s ASEAN chair, and Singapore.

She had been due to make an hours-long trip to Naypyidaw on Thursday, in what would have been the first known visit by a foreign envoy since the coup, but it had to be delayed, she said.

“This postponement has not dampened the intention to establish communication with all parties in Myanmar, including with the Myanmar military and the CRPH,” Retno said Wednesday.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the time was “not ideal” for a visit.

In Myanmar on Tuesday, the activist group Future Nation Alliance rejected the purported visit, calling it “tantamount to recognizing the military junta” by embarking on “official communications with the coup regime.”

Yan Myo Thein, an independent political analyst in Yangon, said neighboring countries should use approaches in their diplomacy with Myanmar that reflect the will of its people. 

“The international community including ASEAN should primarily find an approach as close as possible to the desires of the Myanmar population,” he said. “The results of the November 2020 elections have clearly shown the will of the people. It is irrefutable.”

‘A fine line’

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s generals seized power from the elected government and arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others. The military declared a one-year state of emergency to deal with allegations of voting fraud tied to the Nov. 8 general election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy handily won, according to polling authorities.

The country has since been gripped by a civil disobedience movement and huge anti-coup protests that have continued to swell despite internet blackouts, curfews and the use of lethal force against demonstrations.

Security forces have used live ammunition against protesters, killing at least four people and injuring dozens. A protester shot in the head in Naypyidaw on Feb. 9 died in hospital, while two others hit by gunfire in Mandalay on Feb. 21 also died. Police also shot dead a night watchman in Yangon.

The Group of Seven industrial democracies on Tuesday deplored the Myanmar military’s use of violence against protesters.

“We condemn the intimidation and oppression of those opposing the coup,” said the G7 and the EU’s high representative, in a joint statement that also scorched a crackdown on free speech.

“Use of live ammunition against unarmed people is unacceptable,” the statement said. “Anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account.”

Also on Tuesday, demonstrators gathered outside the Indonesian Embassy in Yangon to reject reports that Jakarta was urging countries in the region to send monitors to ensure that the generals hold “fair and inclusive” elections. Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later denied it.

“That is not Indonesia’s position, because our focus is on how to reach a peaceful settlement in Myanmar that is inclusive and involves all parties,” said Faizasyah, the ministry spokesman.

“I categorically say that such a plan of action doesn’t exist, because the fact is that currently the foreign minister is still trying to forge a common position with other ASEAN foreign ministers.”

Indonesia should be cautious in its Myanmar diplomacy and avoid offending the junta, said Mohammad Hasan Ansori, program and research director at the Habibie Center, a Jakarta think-tank.

“From experience, including on the issue of the Rohingya, talking with the Myanmar military is not easy. Retno has to tread a fine line … giving encouragement the ASEAN way,” Hasan told BenarNews.

“Myanmar has a lot of respect for Indonesia. Indonesia is acting in good faith, treating Myanmar as a friend. It wants to help, not intervene in its internal affairs,” he said, referring to a core founding principle of ASEAN that members of the bloc do not interfere in the domestic matters of other states within the grouping.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

The Myanmar service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews, contributed to this report.

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