Sri Lanka invites Myanmar junta’s Minister

Sri Lanka has invited Myanmar’s junta-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin for a virtual meeting of members of regional body BIMSTEC, which Sri Lanka currently chairs.

Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar slammed the move on social media, as Colombo’s outreach comes just over a month after Myanmar’s military seized power in Yangon. Sri Lanka has not commented on the development so far.

In a March 2 letter addressed to Mr. Wunna Maung Lwin, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunwardena said a ministerial meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation would be held on April 1.

“The 17th ministerial meeting will greatly benefit from your Excellency’s valued participation, and I look forward to our close engagement over the course of the meeting,” the letter said.

Critical comments

Hundreds of Facebook users identifying as citizens of Myanmar left a trail of critical comments on the official page of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry. They urged the Sri Lankan government to stand with the people of Myanmar, and not recognise or accept the military junta as legitimate government.

Hundreds of citizens and activists from Myanmar left a trail of critical comments on the official Facebook page of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry. “Shame on you, Foreign Ministry — Sri Lanka. We, Myanmar People, do not accept Military Junta as a government. The world also regards them as Terrorists who commits crimes against humanity. Please stand with Myanmar people,” said a user by name Kyaw Zaw Linn.

“He is not our Minister of Foreign Affairs. He only represents the Junta. Respect the people of Myanmar. Listen to the voices of people of Myanmar,” said another Facebook user, Nick Eren.

Commenting on Colombo’s invitation, Admiral (Retd.) Jayanath Colombage, Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, said Sri Lanka has invited the incumbent Foreign Ministers of all the fellow BIMSTEC members — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Thailand.

“Our invitation to the incumbent Foreign Minister of Myanmar is only within the ambit of BIMSTEC. Unless BIMSTEC expels Myanmar, Sri Lanka has no mandate to exclude them,” he told The Hindu on Wednesday.

Seeking to make a distinction between Colombo’s BIMSTEC summit invite to Myanmar, and its stance on the junta takeover, Mr. Colombage said the government was yet to decide on its position on the latter. “We are busy battling the Geneva [UN Human Rights Council] session, so we have kept that decision in abeyance,” he said.

Close ties

Sri Lanka and Myanmar share close religious and cultural ties, as the majority community in both countries follow the Theravada strand of Buddhism.

Meanwhile, nearly 40 Sri Lankan activists staged a demonstration outside the Myanmar Embassy in Colombo on Wednesday, in solidarity with Myanmar’s protesting civilians.

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