Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asian signed an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week, urging his administration to take “urgent action” to support human rights and democracy in Myanmar.
The legislators also expressed “concern” over Australia’s stated policy to wait on action by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the situation in Myanmar.
“As representatives of the people of ASEAN, we urge Australia to hold true to its democratic principles and foundations, and not hide behind the harmful response of its undemocratic neighbors,” said Charles Santiago, chairman of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and a Malaysian Member of Parliament.
He said Australia “should be a strong regional partner to the people of Myanmar and the people of Southeast Asia, not our region’s authoritarian leaders, who are working together to protect themselves from scrutiny and accountability.”
In a statement, Santiago decried ASEAN’s failure to formulate an effective response to the Myanmar crisis. “In recent months, it has become abundantly clear that the bloc has failed at all levels,” he said, adding that ASEAN’s response has been “not only lethargic, but also dangerous.”
The ASEAN parliamentarian’s letter was partly in response to comments made by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, in June, when she said that placing targeted sanctions on the Myanmar military would not advance Australia’s interests.
The MPs urged the Australian government to follow the actions of its allies, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union, who have placed targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military and its business interests.
“It’s crucial that the military’s business interests are targeted as heavily as possible,” said Kasit Piromya, former Thai foreign minister and a member of the board of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
“In contrast to ASEAN’s actions so far, Australia’s government must not lend any form of legitimacy to the regime, and should instead formally engage with the democratically-elected representatives of Myanmar, including the National Unity Government,” he said.
Communications tower destroyed
On Wednesday, protesters have destroyed about a dozen military-owned communications towers in Myanmar, a day after the country’s self-proclaimed shadow government issued a call for a “defensive war” against the junta.
The country has been in chaos since the military seized power in February, sparking mass pro-democracy rallies followed by a deadly crackdown and renewed fighting with ethnic rebel militias in border areas.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed and nearly 8,000 arrested, according to local observers.
Protesters said they targeted 11 mobile phone masts belonging to the military-owned Mytel, one of the country’s four main cell networks, in the town of Budalin in the central Sagaing region.
“Our intention is to destroy the military business. Their businesses support (them) to maintain their power. Therefore, we have to destroy it,” a resident involved in the operation told AFP.
Video footage from local media shows an explosion at the base of one tower followed by the structure falling down, to applause from onlookers.
Two more masts were destroyed elsewhere in the Sagaing region, local sources told AFP.
While attacks on military-owned infrastructure and businesses have been seen before, Tuesday’s spate of blasts comes after a call to arms from the so-called National Unity Government.
The NUG, which claims to be the country’s legitimate government, is made up of dissident lawmakers in hiding or exile, many of them from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.
NUG acting president Duwa Lashi La on Tuesday urged citizens to target military assets in their areas.
“We launch a people’s defensive war against the junta,” he said in a recorded video. “All citizens within… Myanmar revolt against the military terrorists led by Min Aung Hlaing.”
As early as May the NUG announced the formation of “people’s defence forces” to take on the junta’s heavily-armed, battle-hardened troops, but they have yet to have a major impact.
The military authorities — officially known as the State Administration Council (SAC) — dismiss the NUG and its affiliates as “terrorists” seeking to bring the country to ruin.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun accused the NUG of attention-seeking ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week which will consider whether the junta or shadow government should represent Myanmar.
“The terrorist groups realise that they are nearly failing. That’s why the attempt to keep up their efforts in order to grab international attention,” Zaw Min Tun said in a statement.
The junta has defended its power grab by alleging massive fraud during elections in late 2020 which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide.
Military chief Min Aung Hlaing — named by the SAC as prime minister of a “caretaker government” — last month pledged to hold fresh elections by August 2023. – with additional report from Agence France Presse