© Reuters. Protesters protest against military coup in Yangon
(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister flew to Thailand on Wednesday, a Thai government source said, as Myanmar’s neighbors stepped up efforts to resolve a crisis that began when the army took power on February 1.
Minister Wunna Maung Lwin came to discuss diplomatic efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Thai source said, when opponents of the coup in Myanmar took to the streets again.
Indonesia has taken the lead in efforts to find a way out of the crisis with the help of other ASEAN members, but its plans appeared stalled on Wednesday with the abolition of a planned trip by its foreign minister to Myanmar.
There were large rallies and a general strike this week to denounce the coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, despite authorities warning that confrontation could kill people.
Ethnic minority protesters, along with Department of Energy officials, gathered Wednesday to worry about the economic impact of the protests and a related civilian strike campaign against disobedience.
“The economy is not doing well, it is in a slump,” said Win Thein, 56, owner of the electronics store in Yangon.
“It won’t go back to normal until the military returns power to the victorious party we sincerely voted for.”
The crisis has restored Myanmar’s reputation as a troubled member of 10-country ASEAN.
Indonesia this week proposed a plan that would focus on ASEAN members sending observers to make sure the generals keep their promise to hold fair elections.
The military didn’t set a timeframe for new elections, but they imposed a year-long state of emergency when it took power so it would likely be after that.
But Suu Kyi’s party, which swept an November 8 election that the military said was tarnished by fraud, and its supporters want their victory recognized.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who lives in Thailand, was supposed to fly to Myanmar, but the trip was over, her ministry said.
“After taking into account the latest developments and the contributions of other ASEAN countries, this is not the ideal time to visit,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said at a briefing in Jakarta.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Indonesian embassy in Yangon on Tuesday to oppose a new election and demanded recognition of the votes they cast in November.
The army took power after claiming fraud in the November election and arresting Suu Kyi and much of the party leadership. The election commission rejected the fraud complaints.
The Future Nation Alliance, a Myanmar-based activist group, previously said in a statement that a visit to Retno was “equivalent to recognizing the military junta.”
The group urged foreign officials to meet with Htin Lin Aung, a member of a committee representing displaced MPs – known by the initials CRPH – who has been named “the sole officer in charge of external relations.”
Protesters in the second city of Mandalay marched on Wednesday, showing signs of support for the committee representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or parliament.
A procession of elephants also marched in Mandalay, media reported.
‘HELD TO ACCOUNT’
Efforts by Myanmar’s neighbors to help resolve the crisis come in the face of growing international concerns.
The group of seven (G7) rich nations on Tuesday condemned the intimidation and repression of those who spoke out against the coup. “Anyone who reacts to peaceful protests with violence must be held accountable,” said a statement by the group’s foreign ministers.
The western nations tried this week to increase pressure on the junta, warning the European Union that they were considering sanctions against army companies.
The United States imposed sanctions on two other members of the junta and warned against taking further action.
China, which has traditionally taken a softer line, said international action should contribute to stability, promote reconciliation and avoid complicating the situation, the media reported.
Military chief Min Aung Hlaing has called for government spending and imports to be cut and exports to be increased in order to revive what he called the ailing economy.
He did not associate the protests with economic problems, but said that the authorities had taken a democratic approach in dealing with them and that the police only used minimal violence such as rubber bullets, state media reported.
The security forces have shown more restraint than previous raids on people who pushed for democracy for half a century of direct military rule.
Nevertheless, three demonstrators were shot dead. The army said a policeman died as a result of the protests.