Stand firm on coup crisis

Stand firm on coup crisis

Tomorrow, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will gather in Jakarta for a summit to discuss the crisis in Myanmar while the world watches on anxiously.

The summit, an unprecedented event for the bloc, is yet another attempt by fellow Asean members to restore peace in Myanmar, following the Feb 1 coup that toppled its democratically-elected government.

The first attempt was on Feb 24 when Thailand brokered a meeting between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Myanmar's military-appointed Foreign Minister, Wunna Maung Lwin.

It was followed by a meeting via video call on March 2 during which Asean called on the coup makers to release Aung San Suu Kyi. China has just hosted a meeting to discuss the crisis with four Asean members, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore in Fujian.

Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader and chairman of Myanmar's State Administration Council (SAC) is said to be attending the Jakarta summit.

As of press time, it was confirmed that two Asean leaders, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, were to send representatives -- Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin -- to the talks.

United Nations special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, was expected to fly from Bangkok to Jakarta for meetings on the sidelines of the summit. She has been barred from entering Myanmar since the coup.

It is understood that Asean has limited options in dealing with the crisis given its own non-interference principles. But at the same time, the bloc, particularly a frontline state like Thailand, given the porous border between the two neighbours, cannot escape the conundrum resulting from instability in Myanmar.

As well as the killing of hundreds of protesters, the UN has reported that nearly 250,000 have been displaced by the brutal crackdown. Many have crossed the border to seek shelter on Thai soil, fearful the ongoing strife will develop into civil war.

This summit is therefore not an occasion for sweet, empty talk. Instead, Asean leaders must dare to disappoint the Myanmar strongman and make him understand the bloc's concerns and the fact that the summit will not be a forum to whitewash dictatorship, or give the Myanmar junta formal recognition.

There is no such thing as a coup "fait accompli". The ongoing strife and the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG) attest strongly to this fact. While no Asean ministers have mentioned the NUG's role at this summit, there must be behind the scene efforts to engage them one way or another.

With the bloc ushering the Myanmar general to the table, it must convince him his country stands to lose if this conflict blows up into a war.

More importantly, the bloc must be firm in sending a strong message against the killing of unarmed civilians, that these barbaric acts must stop immediately. The military must allow international organisations, and good Samaritans to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the atrocities. At the same time, Asean must admonish the superpowers who have unjustifiably exploited the crisis, and urge them to be part of a solution that will lead to sustainable peace.

What is needed right now is a political solution, with all the conflicting parties involved, and Asean must set a firm goal in achieving this. The road ahead is rough, and tomorrow's summit is just a start.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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