ASEAN steps up criticism of Myanmar junta as Russian foreign minister visits Naypyidaw — BenarNews
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stepped up its criticism of Myanmar’s junta on Wednesday as Russia’s top diplomat visited Naypyidaw despite international outrage sparked by the regime’s execution of four prominent pro-democracy activists.
In a speech at the opening ceremony of the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, acknowledged that no progress had been made on Myanmar’s political crisis, despite junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing’s pledge in April 2021 to end the violence.
Hun Sen said that if the junta continued to execute its political opponents, he would be forced to “reconsider the role of ASEAN” in mediating the conflict in Myanmar.
“The situation is now very volatile with the execution of the four opposition activists, and it can be said to be worse than before the Five Point Consensus (5PC),” he said, referring to the agreement that Min Aung Hlaing concluded with ASEAN in April. 2021 during an emergency meeting on the situation in Myanmar.
“ASEAN is deeply shocked and horrified by the execution of these opposition activists.”
The ASEAN CP5 called for an end to the violence, for a constructive dialogue between all parties, for these talks to be mediated by an ASEAN special envoy, for the provision of humanitarian assistance coordinated by the ASEAN and the visit to Myanmar of an ASEAN delegation to meet with all parties.
Even Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged that the junta had failed to deliver on its end of the consensus bargain in a televised speech on Monday in which he announced that the junta was extending the state of emergency it had declared for another six months. following its decision of 1 February. , 2021 coup.
He blamed the coronavirus pandemic and ‘political instability’ for the failure and said he would implement ‘what we can’ of FP5 this year, provided it ‘does not jeopardize sovereignty. from the country”.
Frustration with the junta boiled over last week after it killed veteran democracy activist Ko Jimmy and former opposition MP Phyo Zeya Thaw, as well as activists Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, despite a direct call from Hun Sen to Min Aung Hlaing.
The executions have prompted protests in Myanmar and condemnation abroad, including from Malaysia, an ASEAN member state, which has said that “no representative of Myanmar’s military regime” should be allowed any meeting of the bloc, including this week’s meeting of foreign ministers of ASEAN countries and nearly 40 ASEAN partner countries.
Wednesday’s comments struck a different tone for Hun Sen, who upon taking over ASEAN leadership earlier this year predicted he would use his negotiating skills to resolve the situation in Myanmar.
Hun Sen’s decision in January to become the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar after the coup was widely criticized by the international community as conferring legitimacy on the junta and he has since remained relatively silent amid the crisis. got worse.
Call for stronger measures
Speaking to Radio Free Asia (RFA), an online affiliate of BenarNews, the observers said ASEAN stakeholders should not remain silent on the junta and suggested the bloc call on the United Nations to intervene in Myanmar if he is unable to resolve the crisis on his own.
Cambodian political analyst Em Sovannara said denying the junta a seat at the ASEAN meeting table doesn’t go far enough.
“For example, the ASEAN president should start talking to Myanmar [shadow] National Unity Government (NUG), not the military government,” he said.
Similarly, Soeung Senkaruna, spokesperson for Cambodian rights group Adhoc, said ASEAN should review its FP5 and, if it fails to resolve the crisis, seek UN assistance.
“There should be strong measures in place to punish abuse and the killing of innocent people,” he said.
“We believe that in the absence of such measures, Myanmar’s dictatorial rulers will continue to persecute their opponents in whatever manner they see fit.”
RFA’s attempts to reach Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sontory to comment on the situation in Myanmar went unanswered on Wednesday.
While many Western governments have sought to punish Myanmar’s junta for killing what rights groups have said are at least 2,148 civilians over the past 18 months, Russia has continued to support the regime in both diplomatically and militarily.
Moscow reiterated this support on Wednesday when, before attending the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Naypyidaw and met with Min Aung Hlaing and the Junta Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.
Details of the meetings have not been released, but in a Twitter post, the Russian Foreign Ministry quoted Lavrov as saying that Moscow “appreciates[s] the traditionally friendly nature of our partnership, which is unaffected by any opportunistic process,” apparently in reference to the efforts of the international community to sanction the junta.
The junta’s foreign ministry said Lavrov and Wunna Maung Lwin “cordially exchanged views on promoting bilateral relations and cooperation and reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening cooperation between the two countries in the multilateral arena on the basis of mutual trust and understanding”.
RFA could not reach the junta’s deputy information minister, Major General Zaw Min Tun, for comment on the meetings on Wednesday.
Lavrov’s visit comes two weeks after Min Aung Hlaing visited Russia on an unofficial trip, which political analyst Ye Tun described as part of the junta’s bid to obtain weapons from Moscow .
“The frequent back and forth between the leaders and the current visit of the Russian Foreign Minister all point to the widening economic ties between Russia and Myanmar and the efforts to obtain military assistance – especially military equipment – from the Russia,” he said.
Lavrov said in a press release on Tuesday that his trip was aimed not only at promoting bilateral relations, but also at strengthening economic cooperation and defense and security ties.
Amid the resumption of cooperation between Russia and Myanmar since the coup, relations between the two countries have become increasingly complex.
Myanmar-based political analyst Than Soe Naing said the junta is counting more than ever on Russia to revive the country’s economy, which is in shambles due to Western sanctions.
“Myanmar’s economic situation is already in a serious state…as international oil companies, like Total, pull out of the country,” he said.
“I believe the junta is embracing Russia so that Russia can help the country in the face of an economic crisis – especially a fuel shortage.”
Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thaningha Strategic Studies Group, a think tank of former military officers, said the junta has approached Russia as a strategic partner to reduce its dependence on China. neighbor for economic and military assistance.
“It can be a downside to be dependent on just one country, so it’s not uncommon to find another strategic partner that you can have a very close relationship with,” he said.
“It is mainly for this reason that [Myanmar is] now looks to Russia as a strategic partner.
Observers have also suggested that junta leaders are more impressed with Russia than China when it comes to military technology.
Four months after last year’s coup, while visiting Russia in June 2021, Min Aung Hlaing told Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that he was grateful to Moscow for making Burmese army one of the strongest in the region. In the same month, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution aimed at preventing the flow of military equipment to Myanmar, but Russia abstained.
Observers have said that Russia may see Myanmar as an important country if it hopes to expand its economic influence in East Asia.
The Global Firepower website, which tracks the development of military forces around the world, said last month that Myanmar maintains a fleet of 280 aircraft, including fighter jets and attack helicopters, 664 tanks and 155 naval vessels. war, including a submarine.