Myanmar asked to cooperate with Asean envoy

Myanmar asked to cooperate with Asean envoy

Cambodian foreign minister concedes that meetings with opposition figures might not happen

Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks at a press conference during an Asean foreign ministers’ meting in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (AFP Photo)
Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks at a press conference during an Asean foreign ministers’ meting in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (AFP Photo)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has called on Myanmar to facilitate visits by its new special envoy to help defuse its political conflict, according to a statement released after a meeting of foreign ministers this week.

The statement issued late Friday by the Cambodian chair urged the military junta “to facilitate missions of the special envoy of the Asean chair, beginning with the first visit to Myanmar as soon as possible in order to move forward implementation of the five-point consensus”.

“In this regard, we recognised that in undertaking his duties, the special envoy could engage with all the parties concerned,” it added.

The Myanmar military, which toppled the democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup, has done little to comply with the five-point plan agreed on by Asean last April, at a meeting attended by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The consensus includes a call for an immediate end to violence and the dispatch of a special envoy to meet with all stakeholders in the country.

Asean member states welcomed the endorsement of Prak Sokhonn, Cambodia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, as the special envoy, according to the statement isued after a meeting of foreign ministers in Phnom Penh. He assumed the post as Cambodia took over the annually rotating chairmanship of the 10-member group from Brunei at the start of this year.

The wording in the statement suggested a shift in the group’s approach to the intransigent generals in Myanmar compared with last year, with less pressure on the junta to allow the envoy to meet with all parties in the conflict.

Prak Sokhonn said on Thursday that he intended to travel to Myanmar in the second week of March without imposing preconditions on the junta to allow the envoy to meet all conflicting parties.

“Maybe it’s not possible to meet everyone for the first visit, and we should not be too ambitious,” he said.

The minister also said Cambodia has decided to take a different approach to overcome a deadlock between Myanmar and Asean over the insistence of some members last year that the group’s then Bruneian envoy should meet with all parties concerned including ousted and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Compared with an earlier draft, a copy of which was seen by Kyodo News, the wording in the statement was watered down.

The previous version said the special envoy would not take sides or legitimise the positions of any parties “to enable him to operate in an inclusive and neutral manner” and “facilitate mediation of the dialogue process” among all groups.

Conference sources said the Myanmar junta had opposed the portion that was later removed, delaying the release of the statement.

However, Asean officials told Kyodo that there is fundamentally no change in the group’s position on the five-point plan, with one saying, “We still insist on (the envoy meeting) all parties concerned.”

“However, the special envoy may do this differently and he may visit Myanmar first and engage with different parties rather than all parties all at once.”

During the foreign ministers’ meeting, several members did mention that the envoy should visit Aung San Suu Kyi and engage with pro-democracy forces, according to sources who attended.

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