In September, the parallel government declared an all-out defensive war on the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s armed forces, as the will of the people to confront the February coup has not dimmed while the United Nations has fully supported the former democratically elected government including the country’s ambassador at the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, who in August voted in favour of a General Assembly resolution condemning the coup. He was later the subject of a foiled assassination plot that reports suggested may have originated in Thailand.
On Saturday, it was confirmed that the ASEAN community would not be inviting the leader of the military junta in Myanmar to the bloc’s latest summit of leaders at the end of the month. The move signals a growing lack of confidence in the legitimacy of the isolated regime in Nay Pyi Taw.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Saturday, called for urgent talks between both sides to the conflict in Myanmar after news emerged that Myanmar’s government leader has been blacklisted from an upcoming summit in Brunei at the end of the month.
Senior spokesman, Tanee Sangrat, urged that a special envoy from the ASEAN community, Brunei’s Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof be allowed to meet all parties involved in the conflict to bring about a resolution.
Calls for full access to be given to Brunei’s envoy as envisaged in a 5 point plan agreed last April in Jakarta
Mr Yusof has suggested that meeting the former government leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, may be problematic as she is currently facing criminal charges for corruption and a breach of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act among other complaints brought against the political leader who is seen as an icon for democracy in Myanmar.
It was confirmed, this week, from Brunei, which currently holds the chairmanship of ASEAN that foreign ministers of the ten-nation community have decided not to invite Myanmar’s strong man and the leader of the February 1st coup to the next summit of the bloc which is to be held in Bandar Seri Begawan from the 26th October until the 28th.
ASEAN has been trying to broker a compromise between both sides to the escalating conflict
The decision, following efforts by Asean to broker some compromise between the junta government which has been engaged in what some observers describe as an escalating civil war with its own population since the coup, sends a signal that the military government is losing the struggle both on the ground at home and externally amid an accumulated economic impact which has stemmed from its action when it toppled the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, overnight, on Monday, February 1st 2021.
The announcement, which was first reported by Singapore’s Channel News Asia, also marks a departure for the normally staid Southeast Asian community from a key principle of steering clear of the internal affairs or conflicts within each member state.
Reports suggest that a delegation from Myanmar, composed of non-political party representatives, will attend the next summit in place of Myanmar’s junta government delegation.
Human rights abuses and violence from the military was to be halted following April’s summit agreement
In April, at the ASEAN summit, held in Jakarta Indonesia, the community had brokered an understanding between the military authorities in Myanmar and the opposition that human rights abuses would be halted and steps would be taken to refrain from violence on both sides of the struggle.
This was to be a prelude to serious and substantive discussions between the military junta and the opposition which is increasingly asserting its position as the democratically elected government of the country based on the results of the election held in November 2020 which precipitated the coup months later.
All-out ‘defensive’ war announced by the parallel democratic government in September against army
Throughout the country, the public and armed militias aligned with the opposition movement, have taken on and confronted the Tatmadaw or Myanmar’s feared armed forces after decades of oppression before its return to democracy in 2015.
In September, this parallel government announced an all-out but defensive war against the military to overthrow what it sees as the illegal usurpation of the government by the military coup d’état.
The organisation received a boost in the last week when the European Parliament voted to recognise the National Unity Government (NUG) as the legitimate government of the country.
Despite this, western governments have been reluctant to engage directly in the conflict, apart from very selective sanctions against the Burmese military generals involved by the US after the coup and the suspension of official cooperation on aid programmes by other countries.
Geopolitical overtones with China and Russia offering indirect support for the military junta in power
The situation in Myanmar has taken on geopolitical overtones with support for the junta being given, both directly and indirectly, by Moscow and Beijing while protesters have targeted foreign-owned industry, particularly Chinese business concerns, with arson attacks.
This latest move by the ASEAN community is a clear signal of which way the tide is running on the matter with ASEAN coming under pressure to intervene as it is viewed as having a significant influence.
Bangkok has become noticeably lukewarm towards its relationship with Nay Pyi Taw as the public uprising has escalated and the junta has lost ground
Similarly, the Thai government has been noticeably lukewarm towards the military government of its western neighbour in recent weeks despite being seen as offering indirect support at the outset of the coup.
The civil war between the military and the opposition forces has also seen young people travelling to be trained by militias in rebel autonomous areas of the country in an unlikely alliance.
The junta’s failing legitimacy and fortunes have corresponded with a severe deterioration in economic conditions in the country which had, during its brief period under democratic rule, enjoyed robust growth.
It has also seen the country’s currency, the kyat, depreciate by 60% making all essential goods and services far more expensive for the population.
Despite rising prices and shortages, the public in Myanmar feels it is fighting for its economic future
Petrol and food prices, in particular, have skyrocketed but it has not undermined the determination of the population among which there is overwhelming opposition to the coup, from pursuing its course out of a fear that, otherwise, the country will revert to being an economic backwater exploited by foreign interests, the military and strong men which was the position until 2015 when the country held what was seen as a fair election and which saw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party sweep to victory.
In the November 2020 poll, the National League for Democracy confounded the military by winning 920 of a total of 1,117 seats on offer.
This was 61 seats more than it garnered in the 2015 election and was seen by many as a mandate for further constitutional change.
United Nations fully supports democratic forces
The international community, including the United Nations and Secretary-general António Guterres, has consistently come out in support of the democratically elected government in Myanmar and called for its restoration.
In a June United Nations General Assembly vote in New York, Myanmar itself, through its ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who has come out in opposition to the military junta, voted in favour of a resolution condemning the military overthrow of the government in February and called for a restoration of democratic rule.
Plot that may have originated in Thailand to assassinate renegade Myanmar UN ambassador
A credible plot to assassinate the ambassador was unearthed months later in August and linked to a Thai arms dealer who is believed to have recruited two men to murder the diplomat in Westchester County in New York.
‘So far the Royal Thai Police has yet to be contacted by the United States to investigate the matter. But if we are asked to help, we are ready,’ Police Colonel Kritsana Pattanacharoen, a spokesman for the Royal Thai Police told reporters in August when questioned about the news.
In June, Thailand voted to abstain with a list of 36, apart from India, troubled, anti-western or Chinese aligned countries within the UN condemning the coup
In June’s UN vote, Thailand found itself among 36 states, including China, that abstained from the vote on Myanmar with only Belarus opposing.
Many ASEAN nations supported the UN motion along with an overwhelming majority of countries including all western governments.
Thailand abstains as the UN calls for Myanmar’s return to democracy and a junta arms embargo to quell the conflict
Most of the abstaining states had close ties with China while only India had an unaligned status and is thought to have been concerned, like Thailand, about instability on its border caused by the massive insurrection against military authorities in Burma.
Deepening economic crisis in Myanmar as World Bank forecasts an 18% contraction for 2021
The deepening crisis in Thailand’s western neighbour has seen the World Bank estimate that Myanmar’s economy will contract by as much as 18% this year, an unsustainable situation that also has implications for Thai firms who have invested in the country.
A statement was issued by ASEAN foreign ministers on Saturday in which ‘insufficient progress’ was cited as the reason behind what is a blow to the junta in Nay Pyi Taw, the country’s administrative capital created by the military when they moved it from Yangon in 2005 after they had changed the name of the country from the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar in 1989.
ASEAN move this weekend is seen as a defence of its integrity and reputation in the short term as the internal conflict rages within the member state
The announcement this weekend by Asean foreign ministers is being interpreted by experts as being a band-aid or temporary cover as the situation evolves in the crisis-hit country.
A non-political representative team will be invited to the conference to represent Myanmar.
One seasoned observer said it was a signal to the military junta to make progress on the 5 point plan or agreement hammered out in April last while protecting the reputation of the Southeast Asian body, headquartered in Jakarta, as a credible political force.
The ASEAN community became operational in 1974 following the Asean declaration in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in Bangkok.
The bloc was initially created to encourage cooperation between the countries on trade, education, social and cultural issues. It was also seen, at the time, as a bulwark against the threat of communism in the region.
Thailand’s position on Myanmar is sensitive to the danger of instability in its neighbour spilling over into adjacent provinces already welcoming refugees
Thailand has been seen to be less forward in its criticism of the military junta in Nay Pyi Taw and at the outset of the coup, the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha strongly urged that the coup be treated strictly as an internal matter while he also met General Min Aung Hlaing on a visit to the kingdom.
Thailand, on the other hand, is seen as a country that has significant influence and bearing on authorities in Myanmar.
The kingdom has also set up border stations including reception centres and field hospitals along its long border with the country to the west.
It has already had to deal with refugees fleeing bombing raids by Myanmar’s armed forces particularly on the Karen National Liberation Army in Karen State which borders Mae Hong Son, Tak and Kanchanaburi provinces.
Like India, Thailand fears that instability from Myanmar can spill over into the kingdom.
Concern that violent confrontation between the public and the military may encourage increasingly radical street activists in Thailand who have lost ground
There is also concern and unease among officials that the violent confrontational approach in Myanmar which enjoys popular public support may encourage increasingly violent and radical elements in Thailand amongst the ongoing protest movement although the circumstances in both countries are not congruent.
Recent violent attacks in Thailand and throughout the year by radical protesters have, in fact, undermined public support for their cause.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls for dialogue to overcome the crisis with ASEAN’s help
On Saturday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Tanee Sangrat, voiced support for the latest ASEAN stance but stressed, at the same time, close ties with Myanmar.
‘We believe in the collective wisdom of all ASEAN member states, including Myanmar, to overcome all challenges together in the spirit of the Asean family,’ Mr Tanee said. ‘We urge all parties in Myanmar to ensure safe and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance, especially those related to public health and to those in need.’
Both Malaysia and Indonesia have been to the fore in pushing for real dialogue between the military junta and the civilian population in Myanmar which was at the core of the five-point plan agreed in April.