US considering further action on Myanmar junta: Blinken

Mr Antony Blinken said the US continued to "look actively" at the actions taken by Myanmar. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - The United States is looking at additional actions to take against Myanmar's military junta and assessing whether the crisis in the country might constitute genocide, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday (Dec 15).

He also said the US is planning a summit with Asean leaders next year to discuss the Myanmar crisis and other issues such as recovery from the pandemic.

In his first trip to Malaysia, Mr Blinken acknowledged that the Myanmar crisis has continued to worsen, despite repeated condemnation of the widespread violence perpetuated by the junta against the people.

"We have not only spoken out but (also) taken various actions and preserved pressure on the junta to change course... (but) the situation has not improved," he told reporters.

"I think it'll be very important ahead to look at the additional steps and measures that we can take individually and collectively to pressure the regime to put the country back on a democratic trajectory, to include the release of prisoners and the end of violence, and access to humanitarian assistance and workers," he said.

He added that it is time to implement Asean's Five-Point Consensus on resolving Myanmar's crisis, which the junta had agreed to and signed.

On April 24, leaders of South-east Asian nations had gathered in Jakarta for the first physical summit to try and bring an end to the violence and instability in Myanmar following the Feb 1 military coup.

Under the five-point consensus, there will be an immediate cessation of violence and the exercise of utmost restraint; dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution; appointment of a special envoy by the Asean Chair to facilitate mediation in the dialogue, with the assistance of the Asean secretary-general; provision of humanitarian assistance; as well as visits to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all parties concerned.

While it was a hopeful signal for potential breakthroughs, the junta later called these points "suggestions" and said it would consider them only when “stability” and “law and order” have been restored.

Mr Blinken said the US continued to "look actively" at the actions taken by Myanmar and "whether they constitute genocide".

Mr Blinken who arrived in Malaysia from Indonesia, scrapped the Thailand leg of his South-east Asia tour and was returning to Washington on Wednesday after a member of the press traveling with him tested positive for Covid-19.

“We very much look forward to having a special summit with Asean next year,” said Mr Blinken, who described the bloc as essential to the architecture of  Indo-Pacific.

He said  that besides the Myanmar crisis,  the proposed summit could also cover issues such as recovery from the  pandemic and climate change.

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Wednesday that Asean, as a whole, is in need of some "soul- searching" as there has been no consensus on many things.

"We cannot go on like this. We have to make sure there are certain ways of doing things and understand we celebrate the principle of non-interference. But we should also look at the principle of non-indifference because what is happening in Myanmar is already getting out of Myanmar to Bangladesh," he told reporters.

Some 740,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar in August 2017 in the face of a military crackdown, joining 200,000 refugees already in makeshift tent settlements at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.

"Malaysia is now hosting close to 200,000 refugees who are Rohingyas," said Datuk Seri Saifuddin .

He pointed out that Asean should perhaps have back-up plans and not "just stick to one (plan), and that one is not working and you still stick to it".

"We have to do some soul-searching," he added.

On the Five-Point Consensus, Mr Saifuddin said there is no outline on when and how certain things need to be achieved.

"I think the Asean Foreign Ministers Retreat on Jan 19, 2022 is going to be very important. We should look at what are the next steps. We have the Five-Point Consensus but we do not identify when certain things need to be achieved and how.

"So outlining the actual steps and actual milestones as to the dates and outcomes will be, I believe, an important decision that we will try and arrive at during our meeting," he added.

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