Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, overthrew the country’s democratically elected civilian government last month, detaining leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) over unfounded claims of election fraud.
Suu Kyi has since been charged with several criminal offenses that many observers consider politically motivated.
At the informal ASEAN ministerial meeting, which saw member states’ foreign ministers and the bloc’s secretary-general address Myanmar junta representative Wunna Maung Lwin, Indonesia reiterated its deep concern about the escalating conflict and called for Myanmar’s security forces to exercise restraint as waves of demonstrations continued on Tuesday despite police killings of protestors over the weekend.
At least 18 people were killed on Sunday, according to the United Nations, while more than 1,000 people are believed to have been detained, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi called for unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need and the release of political prisoners. She urged the junta to restore democracy and normalcy in the interests of the people of Myanmar.
“Democracy guarantees freedom of opinion. Democracy advocates communication and dialogue,” she said, while keeping the door open for ASEAN to play a bigger role through humanitarian efforts.
The existing ASEAN ad hoc task force for the Rakhine crisis in Myanmar, she said, could be strengthened and even expanded to provide pandemic assistance.
“Internal direct communication among stakeholders in Myanmar is always the best option. However, Indonesia is certain that ASEAN stands ready to play its role when required,” the minister said.
With opinions within the bloc split on whether ASEAN’s involvement in the crisis would violate its principle of noninterference, Retno insisted that the principle be treated with the same commitment as the other values enshrined in the ASEAN Charter.
“Respecting the principle of noninterference is a must. I am sure that not a single ASEAN country has the intention of violating this principle. At the same time, upholding and implementing the values of democracy, respect for human rights, good governance, the rule of law and constitutional government are equally important,” she said.
She warned that if ASEAN failed to respect the charter, the organization would not be able to serve its people and the ASEAN community building project would be threatened.
In a statement issued late on Tuesday, ASEAN chair Brunei noted that the foreign ministers had expressed their concerns about the situation in Myanmar and had called on all parties to refrain from further violence.
“We expressed ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner,” read the statement, which also mentioned calls for the release of political detainees and for the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy to engage with the parties in question.
Experts have also piled on the pressure as ASEAN seeks to step up to the challenge of mediating the political crisis.
Lina Alexandra, a senior researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Department of International Relations, said that ASEAN could not claim it was a people-oriented organization if people’s security was currently under threat in Myanmar.
“The international community is watching – and not just for Myanmar [...]. You cannot guarantee your legitimacy by killing your own people, and that also goes for the reputation of ASEAN itself,” she told The Jakarta Post.
She said the situation in Myanmar could prompt ASEAN member states to begin thinking about mechanisms that could address such issues, as the group’s ability to deal with the crisis was limited by its own charter.
“When this document was agreed upon, there were many compromises, and it was far from what was originally planned. If we wanted to punish [Myanmar], we wouldn’t have the means to do it,” Lina said on Tuesday.
“And if we don’t address it now, there could be a dual government on the horizon, so who would be sitting [on behalf of Myanmar] at the summit?”
The political crisis in Myanmar is a serious test for ASEAN, particularly as the bloc is expected to act “cohesively, in solidarity and with great credibility” amid major power competition, said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ Center for Political Studies (P2P-LIPI).
“ASEAN’s role vis-a-vis external powers is very dependent on its ability to maintain relations among its members,” she told the Post on Tuesday.
Published : March 03, 2021
By : Dian Septiari The Jakarta Post/ANN