Backsliding by Myanmar

Backsliding by Myanmar

Just weeks after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) revealed to the world its "breakthrough" on the Myanmar crisis at a special summit in Jakarta on April 24, the grouping is more or less back to square one.

This week the Myanmar junta stunned its Asean friends when it made a U-turn on an agreement reached during the April 24 summit. It said a visit by a special envoy to Myanmar which it earlier backed would now have to be put off "until stability is established".

Another area where the military junta has shamelessly breached Asean's concerns was in the cessation of violence. It has returned to its killing spree, with more than 30 deaths of pro-democracy citizens reported since the summit.

As of May 9, nearly 800 people had been killed since the junta seized power, while thousands of pro-democracy fighters have been thrown in jail. Even Myanmar journalists have fled the brutal suppression.

What appeared to be calm ahead of the summit might have been designed to give the impression that the junta was cooperating, and was also seeking a peaceful resolution.

Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing was prepared to attend the Jakarta event in what some critics said risked legitimising the Tatmadaw, as the country's military is known, which toppled the elected government under Aung San Suu Kyi. Asean leaders were only brave enough to tell their rogue friend that the summit was not tantamount to recognition of the coup.

Should the Tatmadaw backtracking -- which is testing Asean's patience -- be a surprise? Hardly.

Now, the world is once again looking to the grouping to see how it will respond to this challenge.

So far, there has been no significant move by the bloc; rather, a collective silence which is a letdown. If anything, it might give Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing the false impression that the region condones his behaviour. Only Singapore has stressed the need for Myanmar "to cooperate to end the crisis".

Indeed, some may regard such silence as caution which to a certain extent is understandable. Myanmar is known for its unpredictability. A country that was essentially closed off for almost half a century while its people bore the brunt of Western sanctions could think about turning its back on the world once again.

But Asean has no time to waste, either.

For a start, the group must press harder for a more acceptable gesture from the Myanmar junta; backsliding is a no-no. There is no such thing as a fait accompli as the Tatmadaw wants others to think of the Feb 1 coup.

The establishment of the National Unity Government and the formation of anti-Tatmadaw forces by ethnic groups mean the prospect of civil war has crept closer, a reality the junta must reckon with.

Asean has no choice but to quicken the appointment of the special envoy, as agreed at the summit, so a dialogue can start without delay. There will be no quick fix to the Myanmar issue, but talks would be a start.

When meeting the US and China later this month, Asean should ensure the superpowers are engaged on this difficult issue.

There are many strong messages which the group must raise with the junta. The bloc needs to remind its wayward Asean friend that times have changed. So have the Myanmar people, who find dictatorship hard to swallow. if the Tatmadaw doesn't yet realise how costly a civil war will be, Asean as a friend must have the courage to tell it.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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