Myanmar junta defends response to crisis amid Asean criticism

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was quoted as telling the Chinese ambassador that Myanmar is willing to coordinate the implementation of the consensus. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (REUTERS) - The Myanmar junta's foreign minister defended its plan for restoring democracy, state media reported on Tuesday (June 8), after a meeting at which South-east Asian counterparts pressed the army to implement a regional agreement meant to end turmoil.

The junta has paid little heed to demands from Asean to respect a "consensus" agreed in late April to end violence and hold political talks with its opponents.

South-east Asian foreign ministers expressed disappointment at the meeting in China on Monday at the "very slow" progress made by Myanmar on its proposal for ending the turmoil that has continued since the army overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.

State media cited Mr Wunna Maung Lwin as telling the Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting that the military had made progress on its own five-step road map for the country unveiled after its coup.

"The minister apprised the meeting that the only way to ensure a democratic system that is disciplined and genuine was through the five-point future programme that was declared in February," the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

The minister had said that most of these points had been met, including preventative Covid-19 measures and setting up a new election commission to look into alleged fraud during a November election swept by Ms Suu Kyi's party, the paper said.

The military defended its seizure of power after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy, saying the old election commission had ignored its complaints of fraud.

The junta has failed to impose control since ousting Ms Suu Kyi, who is among more than 4,500 people detained since the coup.

Security forces have killed at least 849 protesters, a rights group says, though the army disputes that figure, and insurgencies in several regions have flared.

Alarmed by the turmoil, several members of Asean have called for an end to the violence, the release of political detainees, and for Myanmar's rivals to hold talks on ending the crisis - calls reflected in the Asean "consensus".

But in the only reference to the Asean proposal, the Myanmar minister was cited as saying "discussions were made cordially" on it during a visit last week by two Asean envoys - who had also called for the release of political prisoners.

Opponents of the junta have shown increasing frustration at Asean's inability to press the junta and its failure to include other political stakeholders, particularly the ousted government. The junta has branded its opponents "terrorists".

China's state-run Global Times newspaper has quoted junta leader Min Aung Hlaing as telling the Chinese ambassador that Myanmar is willing to coordinate the implementation of the consensus.

After Monday's meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Chinese help would be "highly appreciated as this will contribute to achieving a peaceful solution".

A shadow government formed by anti-coup opponents criticised China's embassy in Myanmar for calling the junta chief the "leader" of Myanmar in a posting on its website.

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