Thai top diplomat says he met with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi

The jailed Nobel laureate encouraged dialogue with the Burmese junta, Don Pramudwinai told ASEAN members
By Tria Dianti for BenarNews
2023.07.12
Thai top diplomat says he met with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai attends a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers in Jakarta, July 12, 2023.
Dita Alangkara/AP

Thailand’s foreign minister met secretly over the weekend with Aung San Suu Kyi, he told an ASEAN meeting Wednesday, making him the first known high-ranking foreign official to meet the Burmese leader since Myanmar’s military threw her in prison in February 2021.

Thai top diplomat Don Pramudwinai said Aung San Suu Kyi supported the idea of talks to end the post-coup crisis in her country. Previously, the pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate had rejected the idea of talks between the military government and armed resistance members. 

Don, who was in Jakarta for Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings, briefed diplomats from other ASEAN states about the in-person meeting approved by the Myanmar junta and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Thai foreign ministry said. 

“At least she’s in good health and that’s all, because most people are concerned about her,” Don told reporters after speaking to his Southeast Asian counterparts.   

The meeting, which took place on Sunday, “is an approach of the friends of Myanmar who would like to see a peaceful settlement,” he said.

When reporters asked him to sum up Aung San Suu Kyi’s message, Don replied: “Encourage dialogue.” 

The Burmese pro-democracy icon was sent to prison after the military toppled her elected civilian government in a coup in February 2021.

In a statement, the Thai foreign ministry said the two spoke for more than an hour and Don “found her to be in good health, both physically and mentally.” 

Aung San Suu Kyi supported dialogue and expressed concern about the toll the past two years had taken on the people of Myanmar and the economy, the Thai ministry said in a statement.

“The expanding and worsening transnational crimes as the result of political and security volatility in Myanmar calls for ASEAN to come together to address these issues at the root cause,” it said.

Zin Mar Aung, the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) foreign minister, said the junta allowed the meeting between Don and Aung San Suu Kyi for its own benefit.

“We are in a position to believe that the meeting actually happened only when the persons involved said so. But now our leader has been detained in prison and the news has been one-sidedly released in favor of the military junta,” he said. “I also believe that this news of the Thai minister’s visit is the junta’s well-planned and timely attempt to gain advantage just before the ASEAN meeting.”

NUG spokesman Nay Phone Latt noted that Don was not authorized to mediate for ASEAN.

“As NUG, we can only believe it when our leader is released and delivers the message herself. I don’t think we should think too seriously the words of someone who has not been mandated to mediate,” the spokesman said.

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech on education in the Myanmar capital Naypyidaw, Jan. 28, 2020. [Aung Shine Oo/AP]

Five-point consensus

ASEAN has been seeking to mediate a resolution to the crisis in Myanmar, where more than 3,700 people have been killed and thousands more arrested by security forces since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thai-based monitoring group. The junta also has been battling ethnic armed groups and civilian resistance fighters across the country.

In April 2021, ASEAN and junta leaders agreed on a five-point consensus to end the violence, start dialogue, provide humanitarian aid and appoint a special envoy to Myanmar. But the peace plan has made little progress amid disagreements, and the Southeast Asian bloc has been widely criticized for failing to implement the plan.

Muhammad Waffaa Kharisma, a political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said Don’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi could change the dynamics of the conflict.

“It is quite surprising, actually,” he said. “This could potentially be a game-changer in the political crisis.”

Still, he said, he feared the meeting’s purpose was to strengthen the junta’s grip on power, which would alarm other countries that want Myanamr’s military rulers and other perpetrators of violence in that nation to face justice.

“If you look at the situation on the ground, the conflict has actually gone beyond the framework of Aung San Suu Kyi alone,” he said.

He said many groups in Myanmar, especially among ethnic minorities, had different agendas for the country such as constitutional amendments, federalism and ending violence from the junta, rather than just restoring and freeing Aung San Suu Kyi.

Another analyst, Aaron Connelly, of the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the meeting hurt the regional bloc’s role in solving the Myanmar crisis.

“This meeting undermines ASEAN centrality and ASEAN efforts to resolve the crisis, and shifts the center of gravity for international diplomacy about the conflict in Myanmar to a Thai-led process that Foreign Minister Don initiated in December,” Connelly said in a Twitter post.

Ministerial retreat

Opening an ASEAN ministerial retreat on Wednesday, Retno Marsudi, foreign minister of Indonesia, the 2023 ASEAN chair, said the five-point consensus was the main reference for the bloc’s efforts to help Myanmar. A member of ASEAN, Myanmar is not represented at the retreat.

“Indonesia strongly condemned the use of force and violence. We strongly urge all stakeholders to denounce violence as this is paramount to build trust, and this is also paramount to deliver humanitarian assistance and for dialogue,” Retno said.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Indonesia’s Kompas newspaper that his country supported the role of ASEAN in resolving the Myanmar crisis.

Lavrov made the remarks before arriving in Jakarta for meetings with ASEAN counterparts and other top diplomats.  

Russia always emphasizes “the central role played by ASEAN in international efforts to resolve the situation around Myanmar,” Lavrov told Kompas, in the report published Wednesday.

He said joint efforts of the 10 ASEAN members and other interested countries on the Myanmar track should be based on close cooperation with the authorities in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. 

“We believe that the world community is called upon to help normalize the situation in Myanmar without interfering in its internal affairs,” Lavrov said. 

His comments come amid growing international pressure on Myanmar’s junta, by which the United States and other Western countries have imposed sanctions on the Southeast Asian nation.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to meet with his ASEAN counterparts on Friday at a conference following the ministers’ meeting. 

He also will join officials from the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit to discuss regional and global issues.

The East Asia Summit is a strategic forum that includes ASEAN and eight other countries – China, Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Australia, the United States and New Zealand.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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