UCA News
Contribute

Myanmar’s rebels rail against New Zealand’s ASEAN meet

Say invitation to junta by ASEAN dialogue partner to attend April summits in Wellington ‘smacks of hypocrisy’
This picture shows a vacant chair for the Myanmar delegation during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' meeting in Labuan Bajo on May 9, 2023. ASEAN countries have mostly balked at inviting the junta to official summits, instead requesting non-political observers as stand-ins.

This picture shows a vacant chair for the Myanmar delegation during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' meeting in Labuan Bajo on May 9, 2023. ASEAN countries have mostly balked at inviting the junta to official summits, instead requesting non-political observers as stand-ins. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 27, 2024 10:42 AM GMT
Updated: March 27, 2024 11:05 AM GMT

Myanmar rebels fighting with the People’s Defence Force (PDF) and ethnic militias lashed out at New Zealand on March 27 after Wellington broke with regional protocol and invited the junta to two ASEAN summits next month.

“The junta bombs our villages, they burn our houses and kill our citizens,” said a PDF soldier who specializes in delivering food and aid to camps housing internally displaced people (IDPs).

“We don’t understand why a country that stands on democratic values would do this.”

New Zealand, a dialogue partner, will host the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Wellington on April 18 and 19, their first meeting there since the Myanmar military, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, ousted an elected government in February 2021, sparking a civil war.

Since then ASEAN countries have mostly balked at inviting the junta to official summits, instead requesting non-political observers as stand-ins. A notable exception was Cambodia as ASEAN chair in 2022. Then prime minister, Hun Sen, attempted to negotiate with General Hlaing.

Hun Sen emerged from meetings in Myanmar claiming Hlaing was his “godbrother” but failed to find any resolution to a five-point consensus put forward by ASEAN to resolve the conflict which has so far claimed more than 47,000 lives.

New Zealand’s then foreign minister was also a signatory to a statement describing the junta’s execution of four democracy activists in mid-2022 as “reprehensible acts of violence that further exemplify the regime’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law.”

Another PDF soldier told UCA News that he understood Hun Sen’s relationship with Gen. Hlaing, saying “they’re both dictators so of course he would say that,” adding: “Within ASEAN, Indonesia and Singapore have at least tried [to be inclusive of the opposition ranks] but the others have done nothing.”

Hun Sen has since transferred power to his oldest son Hun Manet while in New Zealand, the left wing government of Jacinda Ardern — widely applauded for its stand on human rights — has been replaced by right wing conservatives led by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.

Luxon’s government was also a party to a Jan. 31 statement marking the third anniversary of the coup d’etat that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi, saying: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the military regime’s ongoing atrocities and human rights violations.”

The PDF — the armed wing of the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) — has reported major battlefield gains in the north, west and east of the country which its members say should be recognized by ASEAN and Western countries.

One ethnic Barma rebel said New Zealand’s stance “smacked of hypocrisy” while her village was bombed and her neighborhood’s homes, schools and hospitals were burned and destroyed.

“We are fighting for a democracy. We are fighting for the values that New Zealand espouses yet New Zealand backs the junta which is trying to kill us. We are fighting to take back our freedom and New Zealand is siding with a military dictatorship,” she said.

“We know what’s going on. We watch the news too. Does New Zealand think we don’t exist? We are quite upset. What do they think we are; terrorists?”

Another PDF militia person said: “New Zealand has recognized the junta by inviting them to the ASEAN meetings. Western countries understand human rights, they know the junta is killing people and the military has overthrown an elected government and is seeking absolute power.

“This is a civil war and Western countries don’t want to be involved. That’s one point but New Zealand is inviting the junta to an ASEAN summit and that means they are involved.”

East Timor is slated to become the 11th member of the ASEAN bloc and has stood out for its criticism of the junta and its treatment of Myanmar’s people which was applauded by PDF troops and ethnic militias.

Singapore has done a better job and East Timor has done a very good job in regards to standing up for our situation but New Zealand is on the wrong side of history,” said one militia person from one of more than 20 ethnic militias fighting alongside the PDF.

“I can understand why ASEAN countries still want to deal with the junta because all they care about is business and making money. ASEAN countries don’t want to help. They are silent about Myanmar but they can’t work with the junta because they know the junta is losing."

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Lent is the season during which catechumens make their final preparations to be welcomed into the Church.
Each year during Lent, UCA News presents the stories of people who will join the Church in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The stories of how women and men who will be baptized came to believe in Christ are inspirations for all of us as we prepare to celebrate the Church's chief feast.
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia