Asean joins global condemnation of deadly Myanmar airstrike

The attack came barely a week after Indonesia said diplomatic progress was being made in the country.

Yvette Tanamal

Yvette Tanamal

The Jakarta Post


Members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard on a street in Yangon on July 19, 2022, on the 75th Martyrs' Day, which marks the anniversary of the assassination of independence leaders, including general Aung San, father of the currently deposed and imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi.(AFP/Stringer)

April 14, 2023

JAKARTA – ASEAN leader Indonesia has lent its voice in condemning junta-ordered airstrikes in Myanmar’s northwestern region of Sagaing, which reportedly killed up to 100 people and elicited a global outcry against continuing violence in the Southeast Asian nation.

Indonesia, which chairs the regional organization this year in its efforts to facilitate peace in Myanmar, strongly condemned the air strikes and called for an end to all forms of violence, “particularly the use of force against civilians”.

“This would be the only way to create a conducive environment for an inclusive national dialogue to find a sustainable peaceful solution in Myanmar,” Jakarta said in a statement issued on Thursday morning.

It also reiterated a regional commitment to continue assisting Myanmar “in seeking a workable and durable solution to the ongoing crisis” through the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus (5PC), a peace plan endorsed by Southeast Asian leaders that the ruling junta has roundly defied.

Tuesday’s attack, confirmed by the coup regime on Wednesday, came barely a week after Indonesia said diplomatic progress was being made in the country, despite the continued efforts of its military rulers to quash resistance to their 2021 overthrow of a democratically elected government.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government, consisting of former lawmakers from ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, called the strikes a “heinous act”.

The airstrike was carried out by a fighter jet and a helicopter during an event held by a local defense force office affiliated with the junta’s opponents, AFP reported.

While the junta claimed the attack was “limited” to targeting people associated with “terrorists”, witnesses and first responders said bodies of children were found in the area.

Read also: ASEAN needs to look beyond Myanmar’s Five-Point ConsensusThe exact number of fatalities remains unclear, although reports have put the death toll as high as 100 after bodies were recovered and survivors transported to safety.

“We conducted the attack. PDF [People’s Defense Force] members were killed. They are the ones opposing the government of the country, the people of the country,” said junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun in a military broadcast channel, as quoted by Reuters.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a swift statement “strongly condemning the attack by the Myanmar Armed Forces” and called for those responsible to be held accountable.

“[Guterres] reiterates his call for the military to end the campaign of violence against the Myanmar population throughout the country,” the UN statement said.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International released a statement describing the tragedy as “horrifying” and “despicable”.

“[It] highlights the urgent need to suspend the import of aviation fuel [into Myanmar]. Amnesty reiterates its calls on all states and businesses to stop shipments that may end up in the hands of the Myanmar Air Force,” it wrote.

“These airstrikes come just ahead of the two-year anniversary of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar, which has utterly failed to stop the military atrocities.”

Deafening silence

While other international bodies had clearly stated their views on the junta’s attack, thought to be one of the deadliest since the coup, no ASEAN nation had issued a statement as of Wednesday night.

Read also: ASEAN issues belated statement condemning Myanmar airstrikeAn official for the Foreign Ministry told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that the chair statement had undergone a “difficult” process of negotiation at ASEAN. However, unlike an official ASEAN statement, which fully relies on consensus-building, a chair statement is the prerogative of the group’s leader.

In its more than three months of leading the 10-nation bloc, Indonesia has taken a conspicuously silent approach to Myanmar diplomacy, a strategy it has defended by saying public statements could jeopardize the progress it claims is underway in Naypyidaw.

It has also stood by the 5PC, a set of demands calling for peace and reconciliation that is approaching its two-year anniversary on April 24.

But following the most recent developments, analysts have called on Jakarta to take a firmer and more vocal approach to the issue and start involving civil society groups to develop a clearer plan.

“We have no idea what is going on because of this quiet diplomacy. Do we have a plan? Do we have a framework? A road map?” said Lina Alexandra, head of the international relations department at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on Wednesday.

“This information does not have to be completely public but should be shared with the well-informed public such as think tanks, so we can collaborate.”

Lina also told the Post that it was “unfortunate” that Indonesia had not immediately issued the chair statement.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a senior international relations expert at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), echoed these sentiments, saying Jakarta should “openly criticize” the junta’s actions without waiting for other nations’ agreement.

“Indonesia and ASEAN cannot sit in this silence. […] Indonesia, especially, is constitutionally mandated to be an advocate for human rights. It is against our constitution to stay quiet as Myanmar, a close partner of Indonesia, violates its own people.”

Editor’s note: Recast to include the latest developments.

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