Ex-FM Surakiart sees “pivotal role” of Thai military in solving Myanmar crisis
Former Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai has urged the Thai military, which is known for its close relationships with the Myanmar junta leaders, to take the lead in helping to find ways to end the violence engulfing Myanmar.
Surakiart also said that the situation in Myanmar has deteriorated to the point that it has overruled the principle of non-interference of ASEAN.
“With the scale of the violence we are witnessing, we have gone beyond that point already,” he told Thai PBS World in an interview on Tuesday as Myanmar security forces continued to violently crack down on pro-democracy demonstrators.
As Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi engages in shuttle diplomacy to seek a unified response by ASEAN to the crisis in Myanmar, Surakiart said an additional “special channel” is needed to convince the conflicting parties to sit down for a dialogue.
Pointing out the long history of close relationships between the military leaderships of Thailand and Myanmar, Surakiart said Thailand is in the best position to play a mediating role to end the current violence in the country.
Myanmar military regime leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, he said, is widely known for his personal relationships with many of Thailand’s current and past military figures. “There is a high level of trust and mutual respect between Thai and Myanmar military leaders,” said Surakiart.
“This special relationship is Thailand’s unique asset that should be utilized to help find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Myanmar,” he said.
Surakiart suggested that some former Thai military leaders along with their counterparts from some other ASEAN countries acceptable to all sides in Myanmar could be nominated to engage in “quiet diplomacy” aimed at getting the military regime and the National League for Democracy as well as other pro-democracy groups in Myanmar to agree to a dialogue.
Surakiart is currently chairman of the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC) which has issued a statement calling for a peaceful dialogue among all conflicting parties in Myanmar and a release of all political leaders detained since the military coup on February 1.
“At this point, the (Thai) Foreign Ministry may have to admit that under the present circumstances it’s better to give the military a leading role,” said Surakiart.
However, Surakiart admitted that with anti-military protests escalating and casualties mounting, the prospects of a peaceful end to the ongoing crisis in Myanmar are fast dimming, especially after some of the armed ethnic groups have declared they are siding with the pro-democracy demonstrators against the military regime.
“But whatever happens, we still need to give diplomacy a chance,” he said, adding that the crisis is also putting what is known as “ASEAN centrality” at stake.
“If ASEAN cannot play a role in finding a way out for what is going on in Myanmar, what is the use of ASEAN centrality?” he asked.
He said in the case of the current situation in Myanmar, ASEAN can no longer stick to its principle of non-interference to avoid playing a role. “The ASEAN chairman’s statement calling on all sides to cease violence is already an interference in Myanmar’s internal affairs. So is the ongoing shuttle diplomacy by some of the ASEAN countries,” he said, referring to the statement issued by Brunei after a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in early March to discuss the situation in Myanmar.
Surakiart said the alternative to a peaceful solution to the crisis is total anarchy that could turn Myanmar into a failed state, potentially paving the way for intervention by international forces.
Anti-military protesters in Myanmar have already urged international community to invoke the so-called Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine to end the violence in the country.
The doctrine, endorsed by UN member states in 2005, requires a sovereign government to protect its population from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations. Failure to do so would grant the “international community” the legal warrant to intervene.
By Thepchai Yong