The Malaysian government defended itself Thursday over heavy criticism after an online video showed Kuala Lumpur’s ambassador to Naypyidaw meeting with a minister from Myanmar’s junta, whose forces have killed hundreds of people in crushing post-coup pro-democracy protests.
In a statement responding to media inquiries, Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the meeting took place a day earlier at Myanmar’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE). It said the Ambassador Zahairi Baharim went there for the meeting, but the statement did not name Minister of Electricity and Energy Aung Than Oo.
He was also seen in the video, which has gone viral on social media and drawn accusations that this showed Malaysia recognized Myanmar’s military regime, which overthrew a democratically elected government two months ago.
“The meeting does not construe a recognition or otherwise of the State Administration Council (SAC),” Malaysia’s foreign office said, referring to the junta by its official name.
As of Thursday, at least 614 demonstrators had been killed by the military and government security forces across Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup, according to information compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thai NGO.
“Malaysia’s position on Myanmar is clear and consistent,” the statement from the foreign ministry said.
“We have persistently called for an immediate end to violence, unconditional and immediate release of political detainees, and resumption of an inclusive dialogue involving all concerned parties for a political transition and peaceful settlement of the ongoing crisis in the interest of Myanmar and her people,” it said.
The meeting was held to convey a decision by a subsidiary of Petronas, the state-run Malaysian oil company, to suspend a gas project in Myanmar, the statement said.
“The decision was made following challenges in the wells’ deliverability that resulted in the production rate dropping below the technical threshold of the offshore gas processing plant,” Petronas said in an April 2 statement.
Thursday’s statement from the foreign ministry mirrored comments by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on March 19, when he called on Myanmar’s military leaders to change course.
“Once again, Malaysia repeats our consistent call for all concerned parties to work together towards a peaceful settlement of this crisis. We will continue to support an inclusive dialogue for a political transition, and urge all parties to return to the negotiating table, remedy the crisis, and avoid any further escalation of tensions,” Muhyiddin said at the time.
“I am appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against unarmed civilians which has resulted in a high number of deaths and injuries, as well as suffering across the nation. There is no question about it – the use of live ammunition against peaceful protests is unacceptable,” he said.
Muhyiddin also called for Myanmar authorities to unconditionally release political leaders, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, and others who have been detained since their government was overthrown.
The junta declared a one-year state of emergency after ousting Suu Kyi’s government, which was democratically elected last November.
Malaysian and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) have joined world leaders calling for peace to be restored in Myanmar and for the unconditional release of Suu Kyi and others.
Earlier this week, ASEAN chair Brunei as well as Malaysia announced that a special meeting of top leaders from across the regional bloc would take place in Indonesia to discuss the Myanmar crisis, but a date has yet to be determined.
Myanmar is one of the 10 members of ASEAN.
The video of Wednesday’s meeting lit up social media in Malaysia.
“Does Malaysia recognize SAC Terrorists as legitimate govt? @MuhyiddinYassin,” according to one message posted on Twitter directed at the prime minister.
Members of the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition also criticized the meeting.
“The meeting between the Malaysian ambassador and the Myanmar junta army has created a perception that Malaysia has recognized the Myanmar government,” coalition members the People’s Justice Party, Parti Amanah Negara and the Democratic Action Party said in a joint statement.
Washington announces new sanctions
Meanwhile on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced sanctions on Myanma Gems Enterprise, part of the country’s mining ministry, as he called on the Myanmar military and security forces to cease all violence against peaceful protesters.
“By imposing targeted sanctions on this entity, we are sending a clear signal to the military that the United States will keep increasing pressure on the regime’s revenue streams until it ceases its violence, releases all those unjustly detained, lifts martial law and the nationwide state of emergency, removes telecommunications restrictions, and restores Burma to the path of democracy,” Blinken said in a statement.
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