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Asean Must Tighten Screw on Myanmar Military: Thai Observer

By The Irrawaddy Mon, February 22, 2021

Anti-military regime protesters in Yangon in mid-February. / The Irrawaddy

Protesters in Myanmar appear not to care much about Asean with hardly any placards or demands calling for the regional bloc to step in.

Indonesia is pushing its Southeast Asian neighbors to agree on an action plan over Myanmar’s coup that would keep the junta to its promise of holding elections, with monitors to ensure they are fair and inclusive, sources in Jakarta told Reuters. The Indonesian plan reportedly calls for Asean to open dialogue between the junta and protesters.

Two senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters a diplomatic solution had to focus on preventing bloodshed and helping the military to honor its commitment to hold a new election and hand power to the winner.

However, protesters on the streets ask the regime to free President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and hand power back to the elected government. Some western countries, including the US, have made similar demands.

The UN Security Council, China, the European Union and the US have urged Asean to mediate with Myanmar.

An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment on the proposal, saying Jakarta’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, “will make an announcement after she has completed her consultations with other Asean foreign ministers”, Reuters reported.

Asean has little credibility and many observers say it is time the bloc acted strongly on Myanmar. But will it?

Kavi Chongkittavorn of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok said Myanmar’s crisis is now Asean’s crisis. The prominent Thai journalist and expert on Asean affairs told The Irrawaddy: “The bloc needs to respond, demonstrating that it can engage and resolve internal challenges.”

When Myanmar was under previous repressive regimes, Asean was seen as defending the regime’s appalling human rights violations and covering up its abuses.

Kavi said: “Asean must make it clear to the Tatmadaw [military] that it can no longer defend it as before. The region is facing the [COVID-19] pandemic and normality must return as soon as possible.”

Kavi, who has been blacklisted under previous regimes in Myanmar, said: “The Asean chair [Brunei] can invoke Article 32(e) of the Asean charter as it granted broad powers to the chair to take up an action or make other special arrangements to immediately address issues or crises affecting the bloc.”

He said Myanmar has given Asean numerous headaches since it joined the bloc in 1997. “Because of Myanmar, Asean has suffered greatly,” Kavi said. “Since there is no provision to kick out a member, the only action for Asean is to tighten the screw on Myanmar so it voluntarily suspends itself from the bloc.”

SOURCE: The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Mon, February 22, 2021

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