Indonesia, Singapore call for greater efforts to resolve Myanmar crisis, appointment of special envoy

Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger salute during a flash mob protest in Yangon on June 3, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE/BEIJING - The foreign ministers of Singapore and Indonesia on Monday (June 7) urged their regional counterparts to speed up efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar following the Feb 1 military coup, and appoint a special envoy to mediate the conflict.

The call came at the Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting in the south-western Chinese city of Chongqing.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan lamented the slow progress in resolving the crisis, in which more than 800 people were reportedly killed by security forces in protests.

"To be honest with you, we are disappointed at the slow, very, very slow progress," he told reporters after the meeting.

"Unfortunately, we know that there are still civilians who are being hurt, or killed, there has been no release of political detainees. There has been no real sign of meaningful political dialogue and negotiation," he added.

Despite the slow progress, he said: "Let's not give up hope."

His Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi called for the immediate implementation of a "five-point consensus" agreed by Asean leaders at a special summit in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on April 24, which was also attended by Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

"The safety and well-being of the people of Myanmar and restoration of democracy must be our top priority," Ms Retno told a virtual press conference from Chongqing.

At the Jakarta meeting, Asean leaders, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesia President Joko Widodo, called for parties involved in the Myanmar conflict to immediately cease violence and exercise utmost restraint. Asean will also provide humanitarian aid to Myanmar.

The leaders also agreed that Brunei, as Asean chair, will appoint a special envoy to mediate in the crisis with assistance from Asean secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi.

The envoy and a delegation shall travel to Myanmar to meet all parties in the crisis.

China's support for Asean to follow up on the consensus, Ms Retno added, will be "greatly appreciated, as this would contribute to the efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the current crisis".

While Asean maintains a longstanding principle of non-interference in members' internal affairs, both ministers reiterated the bloc's support in facilitating mediation through dialogue among involved parties. They urged Myanmar's military government to show more commitment.

Ms Retno said the special envoy must be given access to speak to all parties "because without being able to communicate with all parties, it would be difficult for the special envoy to carry out his or her duties".

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Dr Balakrishnan said: "Even the appointment of an Asean envoy only makes sense if there is a genuine desire within Myanmar itself for genuine dialogue and negotiation and reconciliation."

The meeting of foreign ministers followed the visit of the Asean secretary-general and Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Pehin Yusof to Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, last Friday to discuss the crisis.

Besides the Myanmar issue, both ministers also raised the South China Sea issue at the meeting.

China has sweeping claims of sovereignty over the sea, but faces competing claims by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Dr Balakrishnan expressed his hope for a "substantive" code of conduct.

"We've been working in the last few years on trying to make progress on (the) code of conduct," he said, adding that Asean and Chinese senior officials met on Monday on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

"And all this again is preparatory work for what I hope will be progress in the years to come, to a substantive code of conduct, which will improve stability, security, peace and opportunities for prosperity across South-east Asia and in the South China Sea, which is between us and China."

Ms Retno called for Asean and China to resume discussions on the code of conduct to manage the maritime and territorial disputes.

She said the ability to manage the issue will not only be "a test for Asean-China relations", but will also strengthen "equal, mutual partnership", which will bring about global peace and stability.

Indonesia, she added, was prepared to host the negotiation meeting, delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in Jakarta.

She said: "Asean and China should immediately continue discussing the code of conduct whose progress is currently very slow. We hope this negotiation is quickly completed with effective and substantive results."

The senior officials' meeting on the DOC agreed on the next consultation arrangements for the guidelines and agreed to resume the second round of review of the text as soon as possible, and strive to reach the guidelines as soon as possible, said a statement.

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