BANGKOK – Regional diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar's political crisis intensified Wednesday, while protests continued in Yangon and other cities calling for the country's coup makers to step down and return Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government to power.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi visited the Thai capital, Bangkok, and held three-way talks with her Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai and Myanmar’s new foreign minister, retired army colonel Wunna Maung Lwin, who also traveled to Thailand. The meeting was part of her efforts to coordinate a regional response to the crisis triggered by Myanmar's Feb. 1 military coup.
In a virtual news conference after her return to Indonesia, Marsudi said she expressed her country’s concern about the situation in Myanmar.
“We asked all parties to exercise restraint and not use violence ... to avoid casualties and bloodshed,” she said, emphasizing the need for dialogue, reconciliation and trust-building.
Marudi said she had conveyed the same principles to a group of elected members of Myanmar's Parliament who were barred by the military coup from taking their seats. The lawmakers are from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, which won a landslide victory in elections last November that would have given it a second five-year term in office.
After the coup, the group, called the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the name of the combined houses of Parliament, announced it was convening the body in an online session and appealed to the U.N. and foreign countries to treat it as Myanmar's legitimate government. It has received increasing support from Myanmar's protest movement, but little if any foreign endorsement. Indonesia's acknowledgement that the group has a role to play could open an avenue for negotiations between Myanmar's ruling junta and its opponents.
Marsudi described her communications with the committee as “intensive.”
Indonesia and fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are seeking to promote some concessions by Myanmar's military that could ease tensions before there is more violence. The regional grouping, to which Thailand and Myanmar also belong, believes dialogue with the generals is a more effective method of achieving concessions than more confrontational methods, such as sanctions, often advocated by Western nations.
Opposition to the coup within Myanmar continued Wednesday, with a tense standoff in the country's second-biggest city, Mandalay, where police holding riot shields and cradling rifles blocked the path of about 3,000 teachers and students.
After about two hours, during which demonstrators played protest songs and listened to speeches condemning the coup, the crowd moved away.
On Saturday, police and soldiers fatally shot two people in Mandalay while breaking up a strike by dock workers. Earlier in the week they had violently dispersed a rally in front of a state bank branch with batons and slingshots.
Also Wednesday, about 150 people from a Christian group gathered in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, to call for restoration of democracy and the release of Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders held since the coup.
International pressure against the takeover also continues, with more than 130 civil society groups issuing an open letter to U.N. Security Council calling for a global arms embargo on Myanmar.
The letter released Wednesday cited concerns about Myanmar’s citizens being deprived of a democratically elected government and ongoing violations of human rights by a military with a history of major abuses.
“Any sale or transfer of military-related equipment to Myanmar could provide the means to further repress the people of Myanmar in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law,” the letter said.
In addition to a sweeping arms embargo, it said any Security Council measures should make sure there is “robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.”
There have been past arms embargoes on Myanmar during periods of military rule but not on a global basis. China and Russia, both members of the Security Council, are among the top arms suppliers to Myanmar, and would almost certainly veto any effort by the U.N. to impose a coordinated arms embargo.
Indonesia's efforts to work with other members of ASEAN to resolve Myanmar's crisis had earlier been stumbling.
Protesters demonstrated outside the Indonesian embassies in Yangon and Bangkok on Tuesday in response to a news report that Jakarta was proposing to fellow ASEAN members that they offer qualified support for the junta’s plan for a new election next year. Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah denied the report.
There was also criticism that Foreign Minister Marsudi had intended to fly to Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, this week.
Marsudi acknowledged Wednesday that she had planned to visit Naypitaw after Bangkok to directly convey Indonesia’s position and the hopes of the international community.
“However, the planned visit had to be postponed,” she said. “This postponement ... did not dampen the intention to establish communication with all parties in Myanmar, once again, with all parties in Myanmar, including with the Myanmar military and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw."
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.