Thai foreign minister informs ASEAN that he met with Aung San Suu Kyi

The deputy foreign minister of the publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG) dismissed the meeting as a junta “ploy,” saying any message the Thai diplomat purported to have received from Suu Kyi should be viewed “with great suspicion”

At a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia on Tuesday, Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai told his counterparts that he recently met with Myanmar’s detained leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in prison, as reported by Japanese media outlet Kyodo News.

According to the report, Don Pramudwinai had the meeting with Suu Kyi on Sunday, and said he might read out “a message from Suu Kyi” on Wednesday, the second day of the ASEAN ministerial meeting.

This meeting with Suu Kyi marks the first confirmed encounter between a high-ranking official from an ASEAN member country and Myanmar’s ousted leader since her arrest during the military coup over two years ago.

“She was in good health and it was a good meeting,” the Thai foreign minister told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Wednesday, adding, “She encouraged dialogue.”

Don Pramudwinai’s meeting with Suu Kyi, which came just two days before the ASEAN meeting, contrasts with his earlier meetings with junta officials, which appeared to signal the Thai government’s intentions to foster warmer relations with the military regime. 

In April, the Thai minister and his advisor Pornpimol Kanchanalak, a known opponent of international sanctions against the Myanmar regime, visited Naypyitaw to meet with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Speaking with the reporters at Wednesday’s ASEAN meeting, Don Pramudwinai said he was still in favour of “engagement with the authority in Naypyitaw,” referring to the junta. 

The possibility that the military regime will allow Suu Kyi, who is currently serving a 33-year prison sentence in Naypyidaw, to meet with foreign leaders or even release her from prison has been widely anticipated. It could serve to create distractions and undermine resolve to hold the junta accountable on the international diplomatic front, as well as sow division in the ongoing armed resistance movement against the regime in Myanmar.  

The resistance has largely been led by staunch members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, who endorsed and formed the publicly-mandated National Unity Government (NUG) after the coup. 

“This meeting is nothing but a political ploy by the military regime intent on using Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for sheer political gain. It is also completely inappropriate that this coincided with the current ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting,” said Moe Zaw Oo, a close aide of Suu Kyi currently serving as the deputy foreign minister of NUG.

“Whatever message is purported to have come from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, we must view it with great suspicion. Because it has been a policy for her not to make any decision without consultation with her political colleagues. We must not forget that even her lawyers have not been allowed to meet her over the past months,” he added. 

ASEAN has publicly maintained a policy of restricting the military’s leaders from attending some of its summits and meetings so as not to lend undue legitimacy to the current regime in Myanmar. The regional bloc reached a five-point consensus two months after the military coup in 2021, calling for a cessation of violence in Myanmar, constructive dialogue between the coup regime and its opponents, and permission for an ASEAN envoy representing the rotating chairmanship of the bloc to meet with all parties involved in the conflict.  

However, ASEAN has not recognised the NUG or other Myanmar opposition groups as governing bodies representing Myanmar’s people. In May 2022, Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah met informally with NUG foreign minister Zin Mar Aung in Washington, but such gestures of support from ASEAN governments for the NUG and groups opposing the coup regime have otherwise been rare. 

Despite a worsening humanitarian situation in Myanmar and little progress in implementing the ASEAN consensus over the years, Thailand has initiated a number of informal meetings attended by the junta foreign minister as a representative of Myanmar. These moves were criticised as an effort by Thailand’s government to weaken ASEAN’s efforts to hold the Myanmar regime to account. 

The Thai foreign affairs minister’s meeting with Suu Kyi may serve the same purpose. 

“In fact, it is Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN, which should be allowed to have a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It has a logical right to meet her. But instead, why Don Pramudwinai? This is very suspicious,” Moe Zaw Oo said. 

“We accept the efforts of ASEAN to resolve Myanmar’s situation, but it is imperative that ASEAN leaders do so considering the opinion of Myanmar’s people.” 

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