Asean to hold Myanmar to 'concrete' timetable

Asean to hold Myanmar to 'concrete' timetable

Details scarce as foreign ministers say leaders will decide on next steps at summit in November

A seat for Myanmar’s delegation remained empty at a meeting of foreign ministers at the Asean secretariat headquarters in Jakarta on Thursday. (Reuters Photo)
A seat for Myanmar’s delegation remained empty at a meeting of foreign ministers at the Asean secretariat headquarters in Jakarta on Thursday. (Reuters Photo)

JAKARTA: Asean foreign ministers agreed on Thursday to hold Myanmar to a “concrete” but unidentified timeline for making progress on a plan to end violence in the troubled country.

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed recommendations for the full implementation of the so-called five-point consensus reached with the junta after the military coup last year, during a meeting in Jakarta.

A statement issued by Cambodia, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the bloc, said further steps would be decided on during the Asean summit from Nov 11-13 in Phnom Penh, which is expected to draw several world leaders to the region.

“Undoubtedly, the situation on the ground remains critical and fragile, and this is not due to the lack of commitments and efforts on the part of Asean and the Special Envoy, but because of the complexity and difficulty of Myanmar’s decades-long protracted conflicts,” the statement reads.

But “Asean should not be discouraged, but even more determined to help Myanmar to bring about a peaceful solution”, said Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who is also the Asean special envoy to the country.

Asean has come under pressure to convince the junta to end violence and instability since coup leader Min Aung Hlaing seized control from the civilian government last year.

A non-political representative from Myanmar was invited to Thursday’s meeting, but the invitation “was met with no positive response”, the statement read.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was present at a special summit in April last year at which members agreed to a plan under which the army was to stop conflict with civilians. But he has ignored it since then and has also rebuffed repeated attempts by Asean to allow its envoy to meet with opposition figures in Myanmar.

While Myanmar’s junta has been excluded from some Asean leadership events since the coup, the group has until now refrained from taking more drastic action even as the US imposed rounds of sanctions targeting the coup leaders and related business entities. 

Although Min Aung Hlaing has said some of the points in the peace plan would be implemented this year, it remains uncertain whether the junta will take any action in complying with the agreement.

Min Aung Hlaing has not been invited to the Asean leaders’ summit in Cambodia next month.

The crisis in Myanmar, according to Prak Sokhonn, “requires a huge dose of practicality and patience in order to bring about a peaceful solution”.

“Of course, at times, we may be frustrated, and we want to put this crisis behind us, but giving up is not an option for us,” he said. “We simply cannot afford to kick the can down the road and prolong the suffering of innocent people in Myanmar. It is now time for us to act together.”

Myanmar’s military toppled the democratically elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021 and has since violently suppressed pro-democracy protesters.

In the latest incident to spark tensions, the junta on Sunday launched an airstrike on a concert held by the Kachin Independence Organization in the contested northern part of the country.

The attack, which was swiftly condemned by the United Nations, killed at least 50 people, including artists and civilians, according to local media.

The junta confirmed the airstrike did take place but did not provide the exact casualty figures, saying only that a rebel commander and his deputy were among those killed.

It said reports that the strike killed civilians were “rumours”.

The United States had urged strong action at Thursday’s meeting.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia, said at an event in Washington that the junta was leading “the complete destruction of all the progress made over the last decade” as Myanmar transitioned to democracy.

“We are not going to sit idly by while this violence continues; we’re not going to sit idly by while the junta prepares for what will be completely fake and sham elections that they talk about holding next year,” he said.


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