Myanmar expels East Timor's diplomat in retaliation for supporting opposition forces

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military-installed government has ordered East Timor’s senior diplomat to leave the country in retaliation for the East Timorese government holding meetings with Myanmar's main opposition organization, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

The statement said East Timor has conducted engagements with Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, which views itself as the country’s legitimate administration after the military seized power from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021.

The National Unity Government also serves as an umbrella organization for opponents of military rule.

The Foreign Ministry said it informed the charge d’affaires of the East Timor Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, on Friday to leave the country no later than Sept. 1.

The charge d’affaires is believed to be the first foreign diplomat expelled from Myanmar since the army takeover.

Many countries have downgraded their relations with Myanmar and left behind the No. 2 diplomat in place of ambassadors.

The military takeover was met with massive public opposition, which security forces quashed with deadly force, in turn triggering widespread armed resistance as the country slipped into what some U.N. experts characterize as a civil war.

More than 4,000 civilians have been killed by security forces and nearly 20,000 are imprisoned, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps tallies of casualties and arrests linked to repression by the military.

East Timor, Asia’s youngest nation, has vocally criticized Myanmar’s military rulers and shown support for the opposition.

In July, East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta officially invited Zin Mar Aung, the foreign minister of the National Unity Government, to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, a former East Timor independence fighter.

Last week, the shadow government's human rights minister, Aung Myo Min, was also invited to open a human rights training program in East Timor, where he met with Ramos-Horta.

“Such irresponsible actions of the government of Timor-Leste are not only harming the bilateral diplomatic relations between the two countries but also encouraging the terrorist group to further committing their violations in Myanmar,” the Foreign Ministry said.

East Timor’s government condemned the expulsion of its diplomat. It said East Timor “reiterates the importance of supporting all efforts for the return of democratic order in Myanmar and expresses its solidarity with the Myanmar people while urging the military junta to respect human rights and seek a peaceful and constructive solution to the crisis.”