Downhill for Asean if it cannot act on Myanmar: Former Thai foreign minister

Protesters make the three-finger salute as copies of the 2008 Constitution are burned on April 1, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Asean, and Thailand in particular, have a responsibility to convince Myanmar's generals to change course, or risk the grouping losing all credibility, says former Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya.

Mr Kasit, who was foreign minister between 2008 and 2011 - during Myanmar's transition to a hybrid form of democracy - told The Straits Times' weekly, Asian Insider: "Ten years ago we were midwives to democracy (in Myanmar) and now it has been snatched away so we all have the obligation, Thailand in particular, to restore democracy to the people of Myanmar."

"We are part of the same family and part of the international community where freedom, human rights, humanity as a whole is very important" he said.

"Now, with the atrocities in Myanmar, it is an obligation to everyone, especially Thailand and fellow Asean member countries, to do something about it in a forthright and urgent manner."

Asean should hold a special summit as suggested by Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, he said.

The summit could appoint a Special Envoy or delegation on behalf of Asean to speak with the leaders of the military junta and coordinate closely with the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, and through her with the United Nations Secretary General and Security Council, he said.

That would "send a strong message to the junta for them to stop all forms of violence and suppression and to start dialogue with the legitimate elected government of Myanmar," he said.

He suggested that the other nine Asean members could, in the meantime, come out with an interim measure - like a suspension of all activities involving Myanmar - until a return to democracy in that country.

Since Myanmar joined Asean in 1997, and in the course of the early 2000s, Asean had had to "carry Myanmar around the world on their shoulders" he said. Failing to alter the course of the junta in Myanmar would be a critical blow.

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"We could not go on and tell the world Asean is integrated and cohesive and is the central entity in Indo Pacific affairs… and people centred," Mr Kasit told Asian Insider.

"All of this becomes a farce as long as there is a military government in Myanmar… in contravention of the Asean charter and also in contravention of all the UN treaties and so on," he added.

"There cannot be any credibility for the Asean community as long as there is nothing to be done against the military takeover in Myanmar."

"So it is a must, it is an obligation, for the other nine Asean members to push back the military intervention, restore credibility and make (Asean) a viable regional entity, otherwise it will be downhill all the way," he warned.

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