Myanmar sets new low

Myanmar sets new low

After 18 months of tap-dancing about the world community's demands for a ceasefire and peaceful negotiations since its coup, Myanmar's military government has portrayed its dark spirit by executing four political activists. They were among 114 opposition activists given the death sentence by the junta court since early this year.

The timing sends a strong and negative signal. The executions were carried out just a week before the Asean Ministerial Meeting to be held in Phnom Penh. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had made personal pleas to the Myanmar junta to reconsider the sentences, without success.

The death sentences, the first since 1988, are a slap in the face for the world community and especially Asean. The bloc has spent the past year without success lobbying Myanmar's military government to follow Asean's five-point consensus including a ceasefire and launching a peaceful dialogue with opponents.

The junta has always been callous. Since the February 2021 military coup, its forces have killed more than 2,000 civilians and arrested more than 14,000 opponents. The United Nations puts the number of internally displaced persons at well over one million.

Some 18 months after the coup, the situation is growing worse with no signs of hope. The civilian resistance movement is stronger, and some are launching guerrilla attacks.

With stronger resistance, the junta is using heavy arms such as fighter jets to bomb civilian communities along Myanmar-India and Myanmar-Thai borders.

Sooner or later, Asean, which has stuck by a non-intervention principle, will have to find new ways to engage with this bellicose member.

The days in which Thailand plays an understanding close neighbour will come to an end, whether PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and our policymakers like it or not.

Thailand has played the role of understanding neighbour as part of its approach to quiet diplomacy that at times borders favouritism.

A few months after the coup, the Thai military was accused of supplying rice to its Myanmar counterpart.

Early this month, the armed forces were criticised for being reluctant to protest after a Myanmar military jet accidentally intruded into Thai air space during a mission to drop bombs on ethnic resistance fighters opposite Tak province.

In the middle of last month, Thai special envoy, Pornpimol Kanchanalak, was quoted as telling the international community not to "get stuck in cancel rhetoric" in dealing with the junta. "Condemnations, sanctions and ostracisation have achieved diminishing returns," she said.

The question is which approach will work with the junta. The first thing the government must do is issue a policy to protect the lives of activists who fled Myanmar to Thai soil. The government must not send them back: doing so is tantamount to committing a crime.

Secondly, the government must include the Interior Ministry and humanitarian groups in providing assistance to Myanmar villagers.

Currently, all such work is carried out by the armed forces which lack sensitivity in dealing with political issues.

It is about time the government fine-tune its "nice neighbour" policy with Myanmar's military government.

We hope PM Prayut, a friend of Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing, will do it sooner rather than later. We are all judged by the friends we keep.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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