Thailand confident aid effort will lead to Myanmar crisis dialogue

Thailand confident aid effort will lead to Myanmar crisis dialogue

Refugees, who have fled a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar army and insurgent groups and settled temporarily on the Moei River bank, receive aid from Thailand on the Thai-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot district, Tak, on Jan 6, 2022. (Photo: Reuters)
Refugees, who have fled a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar army and insurgent groups and settled temporarily on the Moei River bank, receive aid from Thailand on the Thai-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot district, Tak, on Jan 6, 2022. (Photo: Reuters)

A new Thailand-led humanitarian initiative aims to pave the way for talks between warring camps in military-ruled Myanmar, Vice Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow said, three years after a coup triggered instability and a wave of violence across the country.

Thailand plans to establish a humanitarian safe zone later this month at its border with Myanmar, near the Mae Sot-Myawaddy crossing, to deliver food and medical supplies to local communities and 20,000 people displaced by fighting, Mr Sihasak said.

Mr Sihasak said the plan would augment efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has tried unsuccessfully to start a peace process between the military and its enemies among ethnic minority armies and an armed resistance movement.

The ultimate goal was to bring the conflict under control and open up dialogue channels.

"We don't want to see a Myanmar that is destabilised further," he said, adding the process must be "effective, credible and transparent".

The initiative, endorsed last week by Asean foreign ministers and a representative from Myanmar, will see the Thai and Myanmar Red Cross deliver supplies on the ground under the observation of Asean's humanitarian aid body.

Myanmar has been locked in conflict since the military seized power in 2021, upending a decade of tentative democracy and reform. The United Nations says at least 2.6 million people have been displaced by fighting and more than 18 million people are in need of assistance.

Asean's peace plan, which Myanmar's generals agreed to in April 2021, has yet to advance, with frustration in the bloc about the junta's lack of commitment. Central to the plan is dialogue between rival forces, which the generals call "terrorists" and refuse to engage with.

Mr Sihasak said the Thai-led plan could lead to talks that include the junta, ethnic armed groups and a shadow National Unity Government allied with pro-democracy militias.

He did not say if the junta had agreed to such talks.

"Some kind of a dialogue process should begin maybe at least by the middle of the year," Mr Sihasak said, without elaborating.

Thailand had consulted international partners, including Myanmar's other neighbours, India and China, he added.

"It's about paving the way for Myanmar to once again reengage and engage constructively with the international community," he said.

"This is an opportunity for some dialogue, constructive dialogue, to begin."

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