There are fears allowing representatives of Myanmar’s regime to visit Wellington this month risks sending the wrong signal about what New Zealand stands for.

A call has been growing for the coalition government to look at banning representatives from Myanmar from arriving in the country for an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Wellington on April 18 and 19 — the first in person dialogue here since 2019.

Members of the Myanmar community in New Zealand, alongside opposition MP Phil Twyford, and former Prime Minister Helen Clark, have been among those to air their concern that not doing so could legitimise Myanmar’s military-led government.

It seized power back in 2021, deposing the democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party. More than three years on and the country remains mired in conflict and the regime’s been internationally condemned for violently repressing opposition.

The then-Labour-led Government had condemned the coup and suspended high-level political and military engagement. The coalition is now accused of going against that after officials extended the invite to all ASEAN members — Myanmar is still an official member of the association.

Phyo Sandar Soe is an activist from Myanmar. She fled to New Zealand after the military issued a warrant for her arrest. The news that officials from Myanmar could attend this month’s meeting in Wellington has angered her, and others in her community.

“We want the New Zealand Government to ban visas for those officials who are coming, we don’t want them to enter the land of New Zealand.”

When questioned this afternoon Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said New Zealand was simply playing host. “Our position remains the same which is we condemn the military junta in Myanmar.

“This is a mid-level officials’ meeting, it may well be that the person from Myanmar chooses not to come, or chooses to come as long as they aren’t on our exclusion list.”

Opposition MP Phil Twyford said that’s a cop out and New Zealand could decline visas for the representatives as Australia did with a meeting held in Melbourne last month.

“This brutal military regime has no legitimacy and they desperately crave the kind of recognition that an international meeting taking place in New Zealand would give them.”

Former MP Helen Clark said it’s imperative the Government reexamines the situation. “When a visa gets issued by a country like New Zealand, they will regard this like a triumph in breaking their isolation.”

She said it’s also raising questions that could cast a shadow over New Zealand’s reputation.

“I’ve been contacted by people at the UN asking ‘what’s going on?'”

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