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Radio Free Asia

ASEAN Lobbying to Remove Arms Embargo Call from UN Resolution on Myanmar

2021-05-27 -- ASEAN wants the United Nations to drop a call to suspend arms sales to the Myanmar military, which has killed hundreds of civilians since mounting a coup in February, a European diplomat told BenarNews on Thursday.

In a letter to core countries sponsoring a draft U.N. General Assembly resolution on Myanmar, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – minus regional bloc member Myanmar – asked them to omit a sentence that calls for "an immediate suspension" of sales or transfers of all military weapons and munitions to Naypyidaw, said a diplomat from Liechtenstein, which co-sponsored the document.

"ASEAN sent a letter to us and among the amendments [to the draft] they proposed is the deletion of the arms [embargo] paragraph," Georg Sparber, deputy permanent representative at Liechtenstein's mission to the United Nations in New York, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

"There was no reason given in the letter…and when I say ASEAN's letter, I don't mean Myanmar, which is an ASEAN member, but the letter was from the nine other member countries," he said by telephone.

However, he declined to release a copy of the letter. The resolution was crafted at the request of Liechtenstein and with the support of 48 countries.

A high-ranking official from one of the resolution's sponsor-countries, meanwhile, told BenarNews that ASEAN wanted the draft revised because the bloc believes it should take the lead in resolving the crisis in Myanmar, where more than 800 people have been killed in post-coup violence.

Indonesia's and Malaysia's missions to the U.N. did not immediately return email requests from BenarNews for comment about the arms clause in the resolution.

In Jakarta, Indonesia's foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment, and the ASEAN secretariat, which is headquartered in the Indonesian capital, did not respond to calls or text messages from BenarNews.

Last month, leaders of ASEAN states agreed to a five-point consensus on Myanmar that, among other things, called for an envoy of the bloc to be sent to the troubled country. But more than a month later, ASEAN has made no visible progress in naming an envoy, and Myanmar's military government has ignored the consensus it was a party to at the meeting in Jakarta attended by Naypyidaw's junta chief.

The draft resolution, in fact, stresses "strong support for the central role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations" in facilitating "a peaceful solution in the interest of the people of Myanmar."

Human Rights Watch denounced ASEAN for lobbying to remove the arms embargo provision from the U.N. resolution.

"To put it bluntly: ASEAN [is] trying to gut the U.N. General Assembly resolution's call for an arms embargo against Myanmar, which is absolutely necessary to stop Burmese junta's violence against its own people," Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia division said via Twitter on Wednesday.

"Shameful effort by @MFAsg, @MFAThai & other ASEAN governments," he added, tagging the Twitter accounts of the foreign ministries of ASEAN members Singapore and Thailand.

The draft resolution "calls for an immediate suspension of the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer of all weapons, munitions and other military-related equipment to Myanmar," among a host of other calls for international action on Myanmar.

UN resolutions: 'An important barometer'

ASEAN, with its "cherished non-interference approach," likely views an arms embargo as interference in a member-state's domestic affairs, according to Hunter Marston, a Canberra-based expert on international relations.

Still, he said, he would have expected Malaysia and the Philippines to support this resolution.

"Thailand would likely vote against it, though, given its support for the military," Marston, a researcher on Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told BenarNews.

A scheduled vote on the resolution at the U.N. General Assembly on May 18 was postponed, so that the measure could get more support, especially from ASEAN countries, Sparber said, adding that a new date for the vote has not been set.

HRW said that countries such as the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany – among the 49 sponsors of the resolution – should ensure that a vote is rescheduled as soon as possible, with the resolution including a call to halt arms sales to the Burmese junta.

"They should not play the game of saying this is a regional issue and hiding behind ASEAN to avoid their own responsibilities; ASEAN is built on the principle of noninterference and will never deliver on Myanmar," HRW said in a statement this week.

Resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly are non-binding on its members, but they are "an important barometer of international willingness to condemn the coup," Marston said.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told the U.N. secretary-general that the issue of an ASEAN envoy to Myanmar would be finalized soon, but he did not give a date, government officials said.

Many analysts and rights activists have criticized the Southeast Asian bloc for not taking quick action on Myanmar.

During ASEAN's collective dithering over the past four months, Myanmar's security forces have killed 831 people, mostly anti-coup protesters, since the military seized power in February.

Burmese activists and many citizens are disappointed with the international community, said Aaron Connelly, an analyst at the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies who specializes in Southeast Asian politics.

"When I speak to people in Myanmar now, there is extraordinary disillusionment with the United States and Europe, and red-hot enmity toward China, ASEAN, and ASEAN member states," Connelly said on Twitter.

"The reputational damage resulting from the international community's response will last a long time."

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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