By Muzliza Mustafa, Alvin Prasetyo, Subel Rai Bhandari, and Nontarat Phaicharoen
ASEAN on Tuesday issued its harshest criticism of the Burmese junta yet, calling Myanmar’s execution of four political prisoners “highly reprehensible” and saying it displayed “a gross lack of will” to return the member-state to normalcy.
Malaysia, an outspoken member of the Southeast Asian bloc, separately called their killings a “crime against humanity.” The top Malaysian diplomat said “no Myanmar military regime representative” should be allowed at any meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including the next ASEAN foreign ministers’ gathering, scheduled for Aug. 3.
This was a rare rebuke of one of the members of the 55-year-old bloc, which operates mostly on consensus, as ASEAN and member-state governments joined a global chorus of condemnation over the executions of the four by the junta. Its forces have also killed more than 2,000 people since the generals seized power by toppling an elected government last year.
The executions have caused ASEAN to distrust Myanmar, said Indonesia – next year’s chair of the 10-nation bloc – with Indonesian human rights representative Yuyun Wahyuningrum wondering whether the renegade member’s standing in the regional bloc was now shaky.
Cambodia, the 2022 holder of the ASEAN chair, said it was “strongly disappointed” that the executions took place despite appeals from Cambodian leader Hun Sen. The first judicial executions in Myanmar since 1976 came despite a direct appeal on June 11 by Hun Sen to Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the junta leader.
“While the complexity of the crisis is well recognized and the extreme bellicose mood can be felt from all corners of Myanmar, ASEAN as a whole has called for utmost restraint, patience and efforts to avoid escalating the situation,” Cambodia said in a statement as ASEAN chair.
“The implementation of the death sentences, just a week before the 55th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting is highly reprehensible as it created a setback to and present[s] a gross lack of will to support the efforts, particularly by the ASEAN Chair, in expediting progress on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus (5PC), namely in building trust and confidence to engender a dialogue among all parties concerned, in order to end violence and alleviate the suffering of the innocent people.”
The statement reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to the 5PC and urged the junta to “take concrete actions” to implement it.
The junta has reneged on a five-point consensus it agreed to with ASEAN in April 2021 to put the country back on the path to democracy. The consensus called for an end to violence; constructive dialogue among all parties; the mediation of such talks by a special ASEAN envoy; the provision of ASEAN-coordinated humanitarian assistance and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation to meet with all parties.
The Burmese junta put to death veteran democracy activist Ko Jimmy (whose real name is Kyaw Min Yu), former National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw, as well as activists Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, likely on Saturday, but announced their executions at the gallows on Monday.
A military court had convicted them over “terrorist” acts and they lost appeals against their death sentences. The junta had also rejected the possibility of a pardon for the condemned men.
It seems that the Myanmar junta “is making a mockery of the five-point consensus,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said during a joint press conference with Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations special envoy on Myanmar, after they met in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
“I believe the foreign ministers when we meet in Phnom Penh on Aug.3 will look into this,” he told reporters.
“Myanmar should not be invited to send political representation to all ministerial level meetings. This is to show that we are very serious on the issue of political representation. “
‘A direct rebuke’ of ASEAN
Indonesia, too, indicated that the Southeast Asian bloc could no longer carry on with business as usual.
“With these executions, ASEAN is increasingly distrusting Myanmar. Does Myanmar have good intentions to implement the consensus?” Yuyun Wahyuningrum, representative of Indonesia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service.
“Will there be more serious implications in ASEAN for Myanmar or not?”
During a press briefing in Washington on Monday, Ned Price, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, which had pressed ASEAN to take action the Burmese regime, characterized the executions as a “direct rebuke” of appeals made by regional bloc and others.
Elsewhere, a Cambodian academic concurred with Washington’s views.
“The execution of the four Burmese political prisoners reflects that the junta government does not respect … and give value to Cambodia’s ASEAN chair, who has urged them not to execute political prisoners,” Van Bunna, a research fellow at the Cambodian Center for Cooperation and Peace, told Radio Free Asia (RFA), an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.
“It also reflects that the junta government does not care about the ASEAN’s 5-point consensus. The execution sentence also proves that the junta government does not care what the international community says about them,” Van Bunna added.
Meanwhile in Thailand, some 500 young Thai and Burmese protestors rallied outside the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok to vent their anger over the executions. They waved Myanmar flags and banners, and chanted slogans against Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
One of the protesters, Saw Kyaw Aie Paing, 19, had fled Myanmar with her mother after the coup in February 2021.
She said she wanted the world community to stand with the people of Myanmar and give them humanitarian aid. She also urged the Thai government not to deal with the Burmese junta.
In a statement about the executions, the Thai government, via its foreign ministry, said it was “profoundly concerned about such and other developments that could foreclose all efforts towards achieving peace.”
“We regret so deeply the loss of four lives which aggravates the vexing problems of Myanmar. Use of force, cruelty and violence could never settle political differences,” Tanee Sangrat, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in the statement on Tuesday.
“The use of force, cruelty and violence could never settle political differences. We call upon all parties to the conflict to seek, with all their might, a durable political resolution so no more lives would be wasted, and the people of Myanmar’s rights to live in peace are respected.”