Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was “indispensable” to restoring democracy to the country, the Philippines foreign minister said recently, echoing condemnation of her recent sentencing by a junta court.
The Nobel laureate, who has been detained since the February 1 coup last year, was convicted on January 10 of three criminal charges and sentenced to four years in prison.
The junta court has since hit Suu Kyi, 76, with five new corruption charges – adding to a slew of cases against her.
While several Western countries, including the US and Norway, have slammed the latest sentencing, Southeast Asian leaders have been largely silent.
Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin broke ranks on January 16, tweeting he had adopted “as my own” a statement by his Norwegian counterpart Anniken Huitfeldt that condemned the sentencing.
“Suu Kyi is indispensable in a democratic restoration that will pose no threat of anarchy, dissolution, and civil conflict,” Locsin said, adding Myanmar’s armed forces “have nothing to fear”.
Locsin also backed the recent visit to Myanmar by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen – the first by a foreign leader since the coup – highlighting regional tensions over how to deal with the crisis-hit nation.
Critics said the visit by Hun Sen, whose country holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), risked legitimising the junta and undermining efforts to isolate the generals.
But Locsin said Hun Sen achieved “headways” and “deserves wholehearted support”.
ASEAN has sought to help Myanmar, agreeing to a “five-point consensus” last year aimed at defusing the crisis, but the generals have shown little sign of changing course.
More than 1,400 civilians have been killed as the military cracks down on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
In October, the bloc took the highly unusual step of excluding junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from a summit in response to an ASEAN envoy being denied a meeting with Suu Kyi.
But Hun Sen met the military leader during his visit, and has insisted the trip would have a positive impact.