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ASEAN Leaders Urge Restraint and Dialogue to End Thailand Protests


The flag of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)

The flag of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)

Indonesia is the latest member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to call on the Thai government to exercise restraint and resume dialogue to end violent street protests.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Jakarta is willing to help Thailand end the political violence, if asked. But, he says, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must lend support as a group because the battle is bad for Thailand and the region as a whole.

"Certainly this is a rather delicate issue," he said. "We don't want to appear to be interfering in the domestic issues of the country, but certainly as ASEAN grows and becomes major and has its own charter, then certainly we can't sit back and watch if one our countries has a problem on its own."

ASEAN traditionally avoids interfering in members' affairs. On Tuesday, however, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said ASEAN needs to take a common stand to show that it cares about finding a peaceful resolution to Thailand's crisis.

Aleksius Jemadu, professor of international politics at Jakarta's Universitas Pelita Harapan, said it is only appropriate for ASEAN to intervene.

"If they claim to build a community, they cannot stay indifferent to what is happening in Thailand," Jemadu said.

ASEAN should push the Thai government to refrain from using excessive force against its people, he said, as this is violates the ASEAN charter on human rights. He adds the grouping needs to use the power of one voice to pressure the Thai government to stop the fighting and talk with the anti-government protesters.

Cambodia and Singapore have urged the two sides to reach a peaceful political settlement. Last month, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, responded to the situation by saying it would tarnish Thailand's image as a prosperous, stable and peace-loving nation.

Those concerns have spread throughout the region as the escalating violence has led to scores of deaths since the anti-government protests began in March. On Wednesday the Thai army routed the protesters, sparking violence throughout Bangkok.

Since Thailand was the starting point of the Asian financial crisis 13 years ago, there are concerns that its current troubles could cause new regional economic problems. Teuku, however, says what is happening now is isolated to Thailand.

"We are just hoping that more people don't look at the region as a single concept, they will look at ASEAN consisting of counties like Indonesia and other countries that are very stable and have steady growth and progress," he said.

However, many economists in Asia worry that the Thai conflict will hurt investor confidence. Political analysts such as Jemadu say peace in Thailand is in the best interests of all 10 ASEAN members.

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