Myanmar needs help

Myanmar needs help

When a member of the clan goes wayward, the rest of the family should not sit idle. This is what Asean's leaders have to come to terms with when it comes to the Feb 1 coup in Myanmar that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who still remains under arrest.

Several weeks after Asean leaders expressed their concerns about the political situation in Myanmar, it is only now that a few members of the grouping -- known for its non-interference ethos -- have busily kicked off a "quiet diplomacy" tactic in tackling the crisis.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi arrived in Bangkok earlier this week. It's quite unusual that the foreign ministries of Thailand and Indonesia would keep a visit of this sort from the public; the purpose of the visit wasn't even announced until yesterday, when it was confirmed that the minister met her Myanmar counterpart. Before that there were only speculations that Myanmar was on the agenda. Reuters, citing leaked documents from the Indonesian foreign ministry, reported that Ms Marsudi was initially scheduled to visit Nay Pyi Taw today. However, the trip to Myanmar was called off due to bad timing.

Indonesia, together with Singapore, has made it clear it favours Asean helping to avert what would be a deep crisis for the coup-hit country. Three pro-democracy protesters have already died during the crackdown. The Tatmadaw even threatened to use deadly force.

It was Indonesian President Joko Widodo who proposed a special Asean meeting during his talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin when the latter visited Jakarta earlier this month. It was agreed that talks were urgently needed to take place to "facilitate a constructive exchange of views and identify a possible way forward". Ms Marsudi has been travelling across Southeast Asia to rally support for a special summit of Asean foreign ministers on the Myanmar crisis.

In fact, Ms Marsudi went as far as to propose a new election for Myanmar. It appears she has stepped back as the proposal was received with caution in diplomatic circles as well as anger from pro-democracy groups in Myanmar who yesterday staged a protest at the Indonesian embassy in Yangon, declaring that they would not accept anything less than the Tatmadaw's recognition of the Nov 8 poll results. A big challenge lies ahead.

Despite being the closest and most strategically significant neighbour, Thailand seems to have shied away from taking any initiative in Myanmar's affairs, probably because of its own coup past.

Soon after the Feb 1 putsch, Myanmar's army chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing sent a letter to Gen Prayut, who in 2014 had himself staged a coup and asked for Gen Aung Hlaing's support.

Gen Prayut returned the favour and showered the Myanmar coup leader with understanding, which to a certain extent gave the impression that Bangkok was happy to dance with Myanmar's dictator.

The meeting between Ms Marsudi and her Myanmar counterpart on Thai soil may help restore the country's image. But Thailand needs to contribute more. It must help ensure the special summit takes place and that its aims are achieved, allowing Asean to correct its poor reputation for dialogue.

Thailand and Asean should not be hesitant in pushing the Tatmadaw back towards the democratisation process, without the use of force. Myanmar needs to be reminded of the hardships it faced when it was slapped with sanctions for decades. On top of that, Myanmar must realise it also has a responsibility to Asean.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th


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