Community feels ‘betrayed’ by junta’s invite

Leeyah Anthony, 10, protests in the Octagon with about 50 people from the Dunedin Burmese...
Leeyah Anthony, 10, protests in the Octagon with about 50 people from the Dunedin Burmese community after the New Zealand government invited Myanmar military junta representatives to visit Wellington. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
The Dunedin Myanmar community came out en-masse on Saturday to protest the New Zealand government’s invitation to Myanmar military junta representatives to visit Wellington.

It will be the first time Myanmar officials have been allowed to enter New Zealand for meetings since the military coup three years ago that deposed Aung San Su Kyi’s elected government.

They were invited by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the summit between New Zealand and Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries, in Wellington on April 18 and 19.

A Dunedin Myanmar community spokesman, who wanted only to be called Thaw for fear members of his family would be targeted back in Myanmar, said the invitation to junta’s representatives "caught us speechless".

"We simply felt betrayed.

"New Zealand is the very first country in the world to condemn the junta’s military coup, and calling for the restoration of democracy.

"We take pride and do respect New Zealand’s such leading role in doing the right thing and valuing freedom and democracy.

"Such righteous acts are great encouragement for Myanmar democratic alliances to keep withstanding junta’s atrocities and reattain freedom and democracy for millions of people in Myanmar.

"The pain of millions of suffering people in Myanmar, watching New Zealand’s democratic leaders shaking hands and sitting together with murderers of their family members, is beyond description."

He believed the junta would make use of New Zealand’s invitation for their legitimacy, which would tarnish New Zealand’s reputation "very badly" on the international stage.

Dunedin’s Myanmar community protested the invitation in the Octagon on Saturday, with speeches, banners, signs and chants.

It was part of a nationwide campaign aimed at urging the Government to prevent any representative of the regime from entering the country.

Other protests have been held in Auckland, Nelson and Wellington since the start of April.