Indonesian foreign minister scraps plan to visit Myanmar; meets Myanmar counterpart in Bangkok

(From left) Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Parmudwinai and Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, in Bangkok, on Feb 24, 2021.
(From left) Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Parmudwinai and Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, in Bangkok, on Feb 24, 2021.PHOTO: INDONESIA'S MINISTRY/REUTERS

SINGAPORE -  Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has cancelled her planned visit to Myanmar in what would have been the first known trip by a foreign envoy after the military seized power in a coup on Feb 1.

Instead, she met her military-appointed Myanmar counterpart in Thailand.

Speaking at a virtual press conference on Wednesday (Feb 24) after returning to Jakarta from what she described as “shuttle diplomacy” to several countries in the region to find the “best solution” to the Myanmar issue, Ms Retno said: “Indonesia chooses not to be silent. To do nothing is not an option.”

She said she had to postpone her plan to visit Naypyitaw, the Myanmar capital, to “directly convey” Indonesia’s message and position and that of the world on the crisis in that country. 

“This postponement did not dampen the intention to establish communication with all parties in Myanmar, I’ll repeat once again, with all parties in Myanmar including the Myanmar military and the CRPH,” she said, referring to the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw formed by ousted Myanmar lawmakers whom the Indonesian minister said she had “communicated intensively with”.

Myanmar’s military ousted the government formed by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and arrested several of its leaders when it seized power in a coup on Feb 1. The takeover sparked mass protests in the country.

Ms Retno confirmed that she had a “brief meeting” with Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin at Don Mueang airport in Bangkok.

During the meeting, in which Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai was also present, she had “consistently conveyed” Indonesia’s position and concerns over the development of the situation in Myanmar and the safety and well-being of its people.

“Therefore, we ask all parties to exercise restraint and not use force and avoid casualties and bloodshed,” she said.

Ms Retno said she had also reiterated the importance of an inclusive democratic transition process and called for a conducive environment in the form of “dialogue, reconciliation and trust building”.

“Indonesia will be with the people of Myanmar,” she said, adding that she had also conveyed the same message to the CRPH.

Ms Retno said she also conveyed “loud and clear” to Mr Wunna Maung Lwin the importance of all Asean member countries to respect the principles contained in the Asean charter, and the importance of humanitarian access and visits to detainees.

The Indonesian minister has been rallying support in Asean for a special meeting on Myanmar, travelling to Brunei, the current chair in the regional bloc, and Singapore last week to exchange views on ongoing developments. 

In Bangkok, Ms Retno met her Thai counterpart and the Thai foreign ministry said both ministers concurred that “Myanmar was an important member of the Asean family, and that Asean can be a platform for constructive dialogue between Myanmar and other Asean member states”.

She told reporters on Wednesday  that she had carried out “very intensive” consultations with various parties, including a number of Asean foreign ministers and the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, and is scheduled to speak to several other officials in the coming days.

Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also met Mr Wunna Maung Lwin. When asked about the informal meeting, Mr Prayut told Thai media on Wednesday: “As friends we have to listen to each other… As we are both Asean members, cooperation is crucial. I hope to see peace and order.”

Citing sources, Reuters on Monday reported that Indonesia was pushing its neighbours in South-east Asia to agree on an action plan over the Myanmar coup that would keep the junta to its promise of holding elections, with monitors to ensure they are fair and inclusive.

Indonesia denied the reports on Tuesday amid protests in front of the Indonesian embassies in Yangon and Bangkok to demand support for the November 2020 election results.

Dr Teuku Faizasyah, the Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman, told The Straits Times on Wednesday that Jakarta did not endorse a new election in Myanmar.

He said: “We have made our national position clear early on after the military takeover of the government and we still stand on that position.”