ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar will visit the military-controlled country in March in a bid to defuse the political crisis there but without setting preconditions that he be allowed to meet all conflicting parties, the group’s chair Cambodia said Thursday.
“Maybe it’s not possible to meet everyone for the first visit and we should not be too ambitious,” Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who assumed the special envoy post when his country took over the annually rotating ASEAN chairmanship this year, said at a news conference.
Participants in a foreign ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations wave for a photo on Feb. 17, 2022, in Phnom Penh. (Kyodo)
Sokhonn made the remarks after the first foreign ministers’ meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year in the Cambodian capital, which was dominated by the Myanmar crisis.
The Myanmar military, which toppled a democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup, has not made progress in implementing ASEAN’s so-called five-point consensus, which includes a call for an immediate end to violence and the dispatch of the group’s special envoy to meet with all stakeholders in the country.
With some ASEAN members insisting last year that the group’s envoy should meet with all parties concerned including ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the previous Bruneian envoy could not visit the country amid a deadlock between Myanmar and the nine other ASEAN nations.
Sokhonn said Cambodia has decided to take a different approach to implement the five-point consensus. At the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Thursday, “nobody raised conditions for the special envoy to bring with him during his first visit,” he added.
His remarks seem to suggest that ASEAN member countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which had taken a hard-line position against Myanmar, are willing to let Cambodia try out its approach of engaging the junta, at least for the first visit.
“It shows ASEAN being pragmatic in moving forward a complex and politically charged situation,” said an ASEAN official on condition of anonymity. “Meeting ‘all parties’ is still important and a high priority, but as it is not doable for the first visit, then see this visit as laying the groundwork.”
Sokhonn is expected to meet with Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and other political figures in Naypyitaw during the visit and will also travel to Yangon to deliver humanitarian assistance at a hospital.
He said he has not made any contact with the National Unity Government, a parallel underground government set up by Myanmar’s pro-democracy forces, but added, “It is just a question of time.”
“For the time being we want to keep alive the hope to continue to engage with Naypyitaw,” Sokhonn said, adding he will continue to persuade the junta about the five-point consensus that calls for the envoy to meet with all parties.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said in his tweet that he proposes that the ASEAN special envoy also meet with the National Unity Government.
In January, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since the military coup. But he only met with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and not with Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the coup, triggering criticism he was legitimizing the military government.
Hours after the end of the two-day foreign ministers’ talks, which were held in a hybrid format with six ministers attending on site, the chairman’s statement has not been released yet with some countries wanting to make changes to the draft, conference sources said.
Myanmar boycotted the ministerial meeting after the regional group stuck to its decision reached last year to allow only a nonpolitical representative from the country.
The ministerial talks were originally scheduled to be held in January in Siem Reap but had been postponed amid unhappiness among some ASEAN member countries about Cambodia’s plan to invite Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister to the event.
A draft statement, a copy of which was seen by Kyodo News, “urged the Myanmar authorities to take concrete actions to effectively and fully implement” the five-point consensus adopted in April last year.
It expressed “deep concern over the situation in the country, including reports of continued violence and deterioration of the humanitarian situation.”
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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