End misery in Myanmar

End misery in Myanmar

Thailand’s decision to abstain from voting to adopt the United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the situation in Myanmar on Friday was not surprising.

The kingdom joined 36 other nations — which included Brunei, Cambodia, China, Laos and Russia — in not voting on the resolution. Meanwhile, 119 other countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, along with the US and the EU, voted in favour of a non-binding resolution which called for a halt to arms sales to Myanmar, a ban on lethal weapons being used against civilians, and urged the military to swiftly implement a five-point agreement it had forged with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in April, which was intended to facilitate a dialogue between rival factions in Myanmar and end violence against peaceful protesters.

As Myanmar’s closest neighbour which shares a 2,400-kilometre-long border as well as a long history, the Thai government has always been cautious about upsetting its next-door neighbour. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesman Tanee Sangrat succinctly explained it by saying: “Thailand has not had the luxury of distance or existential separation that many other nations have.”

The rationale behind the abstention was understandable, as Thailand has always been the most-affected country in the region whenever the political situation in Myanmar has turned sour. That said, it is about time Thailand reexamines its silent diplomacy when it comes to its nearest neighbour.

History has shown that the Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, is fiercely stubborn and unflinching in the face of international condemnation and economic sanctions. As such, the only way to engage the Myanmar junta is by doing so constructively.

It is worth mentioning that one of the factors which brought Myanmar to finally end its decades of hibernation and rejoin the international community was the aid sent by Asean and other international organisations in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2007, which brought the country to its knees.

But the Tatmadaw has fewer reasons to budge, with China and Russia coming into the picture as peace brokers. An elite Tatmadaw figure was even reported to have said, “We have to learn to walk with only few friends.” A few days after the Asean Summit on April 24, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said the military would heed regional pleas to end the violence only when the country “returns to stability”. In their bid to maintain this “stability”, more than 860 people have perished since the Feb 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Thailand’s military was criticised for siding with the Myanmar junta after it was found to have supplied rice to Myanmar soldiers along the border. It is time for the Defence Ministry to reexamine its role and show the world that it is distancing itself from Myanmar. Good fences make good neighbours, but our soldiers must provide help and safe space to Myanmar civilians who are fleeing the crackdown across the border.

That said, the brunt of the pressure will fall on Asean. It has been two months since the landmark Asean Summit in April, but the regional bloc has not announced the name of its envoy to Myanmar who would be tasked with initiating the peace process in Myanmar. With every passing day, the bloodshed in Myanmar continues. Time is of the essence when it comes to peace building in Myanmar. But now, Asean must show the world it can bring Myanmar out of its misery.