Asean chair warns over Myanmar violence; US urges more pressure

An air strike in Kachin State at the weekend killed at least 50 people, according to local media. PHOTOS: SCREENGRAB FROM BURMACAMPAIGNUK/TWITTER

PHNOM PENH - The Association of South-east Asian Nations is gravely concerned about escalating violence in Myanmar, the bloc’s chair Cambodia said, ahead of a special meeting of its foreign ministers on the crisis.

The top US diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink called the situation in Myanmar “tragic” and said finding away to deal with it was a “key priority” for Thursday’s meeting in Jakarta.

Mr Kritenbrink told a Washington think-tank the United States would make “a very forceful call” at next month’s East Asia Summit, which Cambodia will host, for more pressure to be applied on the ruling military junta.

“We are not going to sit idly by while this violence continues; we’re not going to sit idly by while the junta prepares for what will be completely fake and sham elections that they talk about holding next year as well,” he said.

He said the US, which has imposed sanctions on the military leadership, would take “additional steps to put pressure on the regime,” but did not elaborate.

A statement from Asean chair Cambodia called for restraint, an immediate cessation of fighting, and for all parties to pursue dialogue.

“We are deeply saddened by the growing casualties, and the immense suffering that ordinary people in Myanmar have endured,” it said.

Myanmar’s generals have been barred from high-level Asean meetings since last year, when the army ousted Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, detaining her and thousands of activists and launching a deadly crackdown that has given rise to armed resistance movements.

A spokesman for the Cambodian foreign ministry said Myanmar would not be participating in Thursday’s meeting, which aims to come up with recommendations on how to push forward the peace process ahead of an Asean summit next month.

The Asean chair cited the bombing of Myanmar’s largest prison, conflict in Karen State and an air strike in Kachin State on Sunday, which local media said killed at least 50 people, as examples of the recent increase in violence.

It said the conflict was not only exacerbating the humanitarian situation but undermining efforts to implement a peace plan agreed between Asean and the junta last year.

The junta says it is trying to restore order by combating “terrorists” with which it will not engage in dialogue.

Asean has a longstanding policy of non-interference in members’ sovereign affairs, but some nations have called for the bloc to be bolder in taking action against the junta.

Malaysia’s foreign minister has said Asean must “seriously review” the plan and “if it should be replaced with something better”.

Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah has also met his counterpart from Myanmar’s National Unity Government, a shadow administration outlawed by the junta. REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.