| 28 February 2024, Wednesday |

Myanmar junta defends response to crisis amid Southeast Asian criticism

After a meeting in which Southeast Asian peers encouraged the army to implement a regional accord meant to halt the upheaval, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister supported the Junta’s plan for restoring democracy, state media reported on Tuesday.

The junta has paid little heed to demands from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to respect a “consensus” agreed in late April to end violence and hold political talks with its opponents.

At a summit in China on Monday, Southeast Asian foreign ministers expressed concern with Myanmar’s “extremely poor” progress on its proposal to resolve the instability since the army deposed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.

According to state media, junta-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ meeting that the military had achieved headway on the country’s own five-step strategy, which was unveiled following the coup.

“The minister apprised the meeting that the only way to ensure the democratic system that is disciplined and genuine was through the five-point future programme that was declared in February,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

The minister had said that most of these points had been met including preventative COVID-19 measures and setting up a new election commission to look into alleged fraud during a November election swept by Suu Kyi’s party, the paper said.

The military defended its seizure of power after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy saying the old election commission had ignored its complaints of fraud.

Since displacing Suu Kyi, the junta has failed to enforce control, with more than 4,500 people jailed since the coup.

According to a rights group, security forces have killed at least 849 protestors, though the army denies this figure, and insurgencies have erupted in numerous provinces.

Concerned by the unrest, numerous ASEAN countries have called for the release of political detainees, an end to the violence, and dialogue between Myanmar’s competitors to resolve the issue – demands echoed in the ASEAN “consensus.”

But in the only reference to the ASEAN proposal, the Myanmar minister was cited as saying “discussions were made cordially” on it during a visit last week by two ASEAN envoys – who had also called for the release of political prisoners.

The junta’s critics have grown more frustrated with ASEAN’s refusal to press the junta and its failure to incorporate other political stakeholders, particularly the deposed government. The junta has labeled its critics “terrorists.”

Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was quoted by China’s state-run Global Times newspaper as assuring the Chinese ambassador that Myanmar was eager to coordinate the implementation of the agreement.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said after Monday’s meeting that China’s assistance would be “very appreciated” since it would help the country reach a peaceful conclusion.

A shadow government formed by anti-coup opponents criticized China’s embassy in Myanmar for calling the junta chief the “leader” of Myanmar on a posting on its website.

  • Reuters