1 Apr 2024

Ban junta leaders from ASEAN meeting in Wellington - Myanmar community

8:12 pm on 1 April 2024
Thousands of people rally against Military Junta, near Sule pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

NZ has issued travel bans to numerous members of the Myanmar junta since the 2021 coup. (File photo.) Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP

People from Myanmar living in New Zealand are urging the government to deny visas for officials of the military junta attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting.

The country has been gripped by chaos since the military seized power from an elected government in a 2021 coup.

Myanmar was excluded from the ASEAN summit held in Melbourne in March.

However, its military junta was expected to attend an ASEAN-New Zealand Dialogue meeting on 18-19 April in Wellington. The association is New Zealand's fourth-largest trading partner.

NZ Myanmar Communities group spokesperson Sandar Soe said hosting the junta contradicts New Zealand's support for democracy in Myanmar.

"Since the military took power three years ago, neither New Zealand nor Australia have allowed the illegal regime's officials to attend meetings they have hosted. To do this now would set a terrible precedent."

The group was asking Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters to align with Australia, which "had an effective visa ban in place to prevent the junta's officials attending meetings in their country".

"[The Myanmar military officials] don't have legitimacy because they are not coming from an election, they have not been given power by the people," Soe said.

"That is why they are seeking legitimacy and recognition within the Asia and Pacific region."

She said hosting the military junta in New Zealand could send the wrong message.

"We are appalled by this news...because this kind of action [could give] recognition to the military officials, [and] we don't want that, we cannot accept that.

"That's why the Myanmar community has been calling the New Zealand government to refuse their visas."

NZ Myanmar Communities member Stanley Saw said New Zealand had condemned the military coup three years ago.

"We can't understand why the government seems to have changed its position now.

"Hosting the military junta's officials would give the regime a 'propaganda win' it desperately craves, at the very time the country's democratic resistance has been making significant advances against the junta.

Saw said the regime should not be recognised as Myanmar's legal government.

"[This regime] has killed more than 4800 civilians, it burns down villages and bombs displaced persons camps.

"It has no representation at the United Nations, it is not the legal government of Myanmar and it should not be recognised as such."

Limited engagement with Myanmar - MFAT

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was Myanmar's call on who would attend the ASEAN meeting in New Zealand.

"Representation at the Dialogue from ASEAN members is for the ASEAN member state to determine.

"As an ASEAN member, Myanmar has been invited to be represented at this annual senior officials' level dialogue between New Zealand and ASEAN."

MFAT said in the aftermath of the coup, New Zealand acted quickly and decisively to place pressure on the regime towards a return to civilian government.

On its website, it lists the names of numerous members associated with the regime who have been issued a travel ban. The list has been added to since the coup in 2021.

"Since this time, we have consistently called on the military regime to immediately end the violence.

"We have made numerous public statements including in regional and multilateral fora, such as ASEAN ministerial meetings and UN bodies, which have made clear New Zealand's position and condemnation of the coup."

However, the ministry said it had limited engagement with Myanmar in the context of New Zealand's position as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner, as Myanmar remained an integral member of ASEAN.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) spokesperson Jeannie Melville said: "Immigration NZ assesses all visa applications to determine whether they meet, or do not meet, the relevant immigration requirements for the visa being applied for.

"This includes applications that we may receive from Myanmar officials applying to come to New Zealand to attend the ASEAN meeting later this month.

"Information about the visa process can be found on the INZ website.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs