‘Must press’ Myanmar junta to stop violence, return to democracy: Blinken

NEWS DESK

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Southeast Asian ministers today (July 14) that Washington and regional states must pressure Myanmar’s ruling junta to put down its arms and return to democratic rule, AP reports.

Myanmar has been ravaged by deadly violence since a military coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government more than two years ago, unleashing a bloody crackdown on dissent and ending the country’s brief democratic experiment.

“In Myanmar, we must press the military regime to stop the violence, to implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus, to support a return to democratic governance,” he told Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers ahead of talks in Jakarta.

This week’s ASEAN meeting has been dominated by the crisis, which has left the bloc divided about how and whether it should re-engage with Myanmar’s junta rulers.

They have been barred from ASEAN’s high-level meetings but Thailand hosted the junta’s foreign minister last month for controversial “informal talks” that further split the bloc.

The 10-member group has long been decried as a toothless talking shop, and it remains split over diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis as it tries to form a united position on the country.

In a joint communique issued late Thursday, the bloc condemned violence on all sides and reiterated a five-point peace plan largely ignored by the junta should remain the basis of engagement.

But the meeting was dealt a surprise on Wednesday when Thailand’s foreign minister disclosed he met with Myanmar’s ousted democracy leader Suu Kyi on his own on Sunday in the country’s capital Naypyidaw and said she was in “good health”.

Myanmar’s junta chief hinted the military may further extend a state of emergency and delay promised elections in comments published today, saying greater efforts were needed to end unrest.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing’s administration has extended the state of emergency it imposed during the coup multiple times after giving acknowledgements of continuing unrest.

On Thursday, he told a meeting of senior officials that “events of terrorism declined but continued to occur” in Myanmar, in reference to ongoing attacks by anti-coup resistance forces.

“Many requirements can be seen in implementation of fully emphasizing the security, peace and stability and rule of law,” he said, according to a military statement outlining the meeting today.

More than 782 people had been killed in hundreds of “terror acts” since the start of the year, he added, without giving further details.

Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 constitution, which the junta has said is still in force, requires authorities to hold fresh elections within six months of a state of emergency being lifted.

The junta had promised fresh elections in August of this year but in February it again extended the emergency ordinance, a day after its National Defence and Security Council said the situation in the country had “not returned to normalcy yet”.

After her government was deposed, Suu Kyi, 78, was convicted in a series of trials that rights groups slammed as a sham, and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Thailand’s foreign minister said Wednesday that he met with Suu Kyi last week, her first known meeting with a foreign envoy since the 2021 coup.

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