Neighbours’ efforts to help end Myanmar crisis raise suspicion among protesters

Demonstrators take part in a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar

Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister flew into Thailand on Wednesday for talks with two of his neighbours as they intensified efforts to resolve a crisis over Myanmar’s coup, despite the scepticism of its pro-democracy camp.

The minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, made the first foreign trip by a member of the new military government as opponents of the Feb. 1 coup again took to the streets in Myanmar.

The army seized power after alleging fraud in a Nov. 8 election swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), detaining her and much of the party leadership. The electoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.

Indonesia has taken the lead within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in efforts to steer a path out of the crisis and its foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday and met Wunna Maung Lwin and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

A Thai source said the Myanmar minister also had a meeting scheduled with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The Indonesian effort has raised suspicion among Myanmar activists who fear dealing with the junta would confer legitimacy on it and its bid to scrap the November election. They insist the result should stand.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Thai embassy in the main city of Yangon with signs reading: “Respect our vote” and “We voted NLD”.

“Our foreign minister is Aung San Suu Kyi,” the protesters chanted, referring to the post she held in the government she led after winning a 2015 election in a landslide.

In Bangkok, Thai prime minister Prayuth, a former army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup, declined to confirm to reporters he had met the Myanmar minister.

“Some things are not official,” he said. “We offer support as an ASEAN country that has to cooperate and offer well-wishes that everything works out smoothly.”

This week has seen huge rallies and a general strike to denounce the coup and demand Suu Kyi’s release despite a warning from authorities that confrontation could get people killed.

A Reuters report this week fanned suspicion about Indonesia’s approach after it cited sources as saying Indonesia was proposing that ASEAN members send monitors to ensure the generals stick to their promise of fair, new elections.

The military has not given a time frame for a new election but it imposed a one-year state of emergency when it seized power so it would likely be after that.

An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman later said it was not backing a new election. The Indonesian foreign minister had been expected to fly to Myanmar on Wednesday but the plan was dropped, her ministry said.

“This is not the ideal time to conduct a visit,” ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told a briefing in Jakarta.

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