Myanmar junta's top diplomat in talks with Thailand, Indonesia

Bangkok (AFP) –


The Myanmar junta's foreign minister visited Thailand on Wednesday as regional powers tried to broker an end to three weeks of deadly unrest triggered by a military coup.

Foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin held talks with his counterparts from Thailand and Indonesia in what was the first known face-to-face meetings between a senior junta member and foreign governments.

The military has weathered a storm of international condemnation for ousting civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power in a February 1 putsch, while dissent within its borders has been vociferous with daily nationwide protests.

The meetings come after an announcement that Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi would not be immediately visiting the coup-hit nation despite leaked documents from Myanmar's side on her impending arrival.

Instead, Thai foreign ministry spokesperson Tanee Sanrat confirmed in a text message to reporters that Marsudi -- who visited Bangkok -- met with Wunna Maung Lwin in Thailand, the same day she had a meeting with the kingdom's foreign minister Don Pramudwinai.

"We didn't plan on it but yes," Tanee wrote in response to a question asking about a meeting between the three ministers.

Another government source said there was "a tripartite meeting between Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar ministers, proposed by Thailand".

No details were released on the discussions.

While he did not confirm any meeting, Thai Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha -- who came to power following a 2014 coup -- said Wednesday the issue is being "handled by the foreign ministry".

The two ASEAN nations were "friendly neighbours", he said, before shutting down further questions.

- 'Stop negotiating with them' -

Earlier Wednesday, the Indonesian embassy in Myanmar's commercial hub Yangon saw hundreds of protesters gather for the second consecutive day.

Angered that the country was considering negotiations with the junta government -- officially named the State Administration Council -- demonstrators carried signs reading: "Stop negotiating with them" and "Indonesia, don't support dictator".

"The Military's State Administration Council is not our legitimate government," said participant Seinn Lae Maung, who had a Myanmar flag painted on her face.

"Please respect our votes and do hear our voices."

Since the February 1 coup, Myanmar has seen a torrent of anger and defiance from hundreds of thousands of protesters nationwide demanding the release of Suu Kyi.

The military has justified its actions by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November's elections, which Suu Kyi's party had won in a landslide.

Since taking power, the junta has ordered nightly internet blackouts and arrested hundreds of anti-coup protesters, while security forces have steadily stepped up enforcement tactics to quell demonstrations.

They have deployed tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against protesters, as well as isolated incidents of live rounds.

Three anti-coup demonstrators have been killed so far, while one man in Yangon was shot dead while patrolling his neighbourhood against night arrests.

On Wednesday, families and friends paid tribute to 30-year-old Tin Htut Hein who had been patrolling Yangon's Shwephyitha Township when he was gunned down.

Some mourners wore T-shirts with his face printed on the front, while others placed roses on a sign that said "dictatorship must fail".

Protests continued across the country Wednesday, from Yangon -- where ethnic minority groups dressed in their traditional outfits marched with their flags -- to Myanmar's second-largest city Mandalay, which saw protesters riding elephants.

The massive mammals had "Down with Military Dictatorship" written across their rumps.

There was also a cremation ceremony for 17-year-old Wai Yan Tun who was shot in the head Saturday after security forces opened fire during a Mandalay protest.

Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since she was detained in dawn raids.

The Nobel laureate is facing obscure charges for having unregistered walkie-talkies in her residence and for breaking coronavirus rules. She is expected to go on trial March 1.