Sri Lanka invites Myanmar junta’s Minister

Saying no: Activists staging a protest outside Myanmar’s Embassy in Colombo against the BIMSTEC invite .   | Photo Credit: ISHARA S. KODIKARA

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.

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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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 10:36:37 PM |

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