Asean envoy laments 'lack of trust' in Myanmar

Asean envoy laments 'lack of trust' in Myanmar

Regional group will continue to shun generals unless they agree to start peace process

Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn addresses a news conference after the conclusion of the Asean regional Forum talks in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)
Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn addresses a news conference after the conclusion of the Asean regional Forum talks in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

PHNOM PENH: A lack of trust and political will is stifling Myanmar’s peace process and Asean will continue to shun its ruling generals, unless they engage opponents and make concrete progress, the group's special envoy said on Saturday.

Prak Sokhonn, who is also Cambodia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, said he would not give up on Myanmar, even though he had seen no willingness from any party to give up their fight.

Myanmar has been trapped in a spiral of violence since the military seized power last year and ended a decade of tentative democracy, triggering a backlash of protests, strikes and armed resistance that the generals have met with deadly force.

Prak Sokhonn said the junta’s recent execution of four activists tied to a militia movement was a major blow for any peace hopes and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) agreed that without future progress, its position on Myanmar would have to be reconsidered.

“I haven’t seen any sign of will from all parties to stop the fight. The only way I see now is to continue to fight. Why? Because of the lack of trust,” he said.

“Without this trust, the fight will continue and the political process will never stop, because no one will come if they fear for their life.”

He made the comments as Asean foreign ministers concluded talks with international counterparts — including top diplomats from the US, Russia and China — in the capital of Cambodia, which is chairing the regional bloc this year.

The Myanmar junta has become an international outcast due to its fierce crackdown on its opponents. Asean has barred the military from representing Myanmar at international meetings until starts to implement the peace plan.

A UN-backed peace plan that junta leader Min Aung Hlaing agreed to with Asean in 2021 has yet to move forward and remains the only diplomatic process in play.

In a statement issued late Friday, Myanmar’s junta said Asean members should not interfere in its affairs, nor engage with “terrorists” opposed to its rule.

It said the military had always been clear that its commitment to the peace process would be determined by developments on the ground.

“Asean should respect the right of every member state and refrain from interference … subversion and coercion,” it said, adding the junta was making “notable progress” in peace efforts.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday urged the international community to reject the Myanmar junta’s “sham elections” planned for August next year, saying they would be “neither free nor fair”.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, visiting Myanmar on Wednesday before going to Cambodia, wished the junta “success” in the proposed polls during talks with top generals in the capital Nay Pyi Taw.

Lavrov also said Russia backed the junta’s efforts to “stabilise” the country.

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