Asean should not underestimate resistance to Myanmar coup: Lawmaker

Protesters hold sunflowers during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar, on April 21, 2021.
Protesters hold sunflowers during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar, on April 21, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - A representative of the ousted lawmakers challenging Myanmar's junta on Thursday (April 22) told Asean leaders not to underestimate the resistance to the regime, and respect the will of Myanmar's people to forge their country's future.

Ms Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Minister of Women, Youth and Children Affairs under the National Unity Government formed on April 16, alleged in an online press conference that Asean leaders mistakenly believe the uprising against Myanmar's military will "come and go" and that "stability will be restored sooner or later in the country".

"We challenge this view," she said. "The people of Myanmar say 'enough is enough'… And we will choose death instead of living under the military, under the dictatorship."

Speaking ahead of the special Asean leaders' meeting on Saturday (April 24) to be convened in Jakarta to discuss Myanmar's crisis, the minister also took issue with the notion aired by some analysts that the country of 54 million would disintegrate if Myanmar's military was banished from power.

"We and the people are capable of building a strong nation, become a good neighbour and establish and maintain stability in the country and for the Asean region," she stressed during the online event organised by the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

Saturday's summit is Asean's most significant attempt so far to craft a meaningful response to the Feb 1 military coup that has plunged Myanmar into a political and economic crisis.

The regime now headed by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has killed at least 739 people and imprisoned over 3,300, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Soldiers and police officers have not only deployed war weapons against civilians but also looted homes and shops.

A nationwide strike has crippled banks and made government services barely functional beyond the fortified capital of Naypyitaw.

On April 16, ousted lawmakers joined hands with civil society and ethnic minority representatives to form the National Unity Government - which the junta promptly declared illegal.

Asean's decision to invite Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to Saturday's meeting caused an outcry among Myanmar's people, who interpreted it as conferring him legitimacy and who also demanded that NUG be represented at the meeting.

Others argue that the only way to stop the violence is to engage directly with the junta chief.

Among the other nine Asean member states, Thai premier Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have announced they will skip the summit to tend to their domestic Covid-19 outbreaks.

The United Nations' special envoy on Myanmar, Ms Christine Schraner Burgener, who has not been granted access to Myanmar, will also speak to Asean ministers in Jakarta on the sidelines of the summit.

Asean, which takes decisions by consensus, has not officially condemned the coup even though individual member states like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have denounced the violence.

Among some ideas being considered is for Asean to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar and for the bloc to provide humanitarian aid.

But Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago, who chairs the APHR, said the appointment of an Asean envoy "should not be used to buy time".

"The fear is that appointing the special envoy would give time for Min Aung Hlaing to finish his job, to unleash even more terror and… put his system in place as opposed to the government that has been elected," he said. "We have to be quite careful," he said.

While Asean leaders should convey to the junta chief the urgent need to stop the violence and release political prisoners, they should not give him a seat at the negotiating table determining Myanmar's future, he said.

"Asean should not be giving legitimacy to a butcher," he told reporters.