Sri Lanka invites Myanmar junta's foreign minister to meeting, but denies endorsing coup

A video screengrab from a March 2, 2021 broadcast shows Myanmar's Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin taking part in a virtual meeting with foreign ministers and Asean representatives. PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - Sri Lanka has invited a representative of Myanmar's junta to a meeting of Asian foreign ministers, but denied on Wednesday (March 10) that its gesture endorsed the country's military coup.

"ProtestSriLanka" began trending among coup opponents on Twitter in Myanmar after it emerged - through a letter leaked online - that Colombo had invited military foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) virtual meeting in Colombo on April 1.

Myanmar's army seized power in a coup on Feb 1, detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and most of her Cabinet.

Nationwide mass protests have been met with deadly force, with at least 60 people killed according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group.

Jayanath Colombage, secretary to Sri Lanka's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters by phone that Myanmar's "incumbent foreign minister" had been invited because the country was a member nation of Bimstec and had not been removed or suspended.

"That doesn't mean we have accepted the Myanmar military government," he said. "We have not taken a position on that."

Myanmar's military has brushed off condemnation of its actions, as it has in past periods of army rule when outbreaks of protest were forcibly repressed.

Bimstec is a grouping of nations - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand - that are dependent on the Bay of Bengal.

Myanmar protesters have called on nations across the world to reject the military leadership and deal with a civilian committee set up by ousted lawmakers - the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).

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"Every nation in the world needs to clearly understand that the coup in Myanmar is not complete, it's still an attempted coup," Myanmar-based activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told Reuters.

"So I ask Sri Lankan activists to give pressure to the Sri Lankan government not to invite the military junta because they are not the legitimate government of Myanmar," she said.

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