Thailand hosted a regional meeting on Thursday to discuss the crisis in army-ruled Myanmar, which included a rare international appearance by three junta ministers, but several key players from Asean did not attend.
The “informal” meeting came a day after the United Nations Security Council adopted its first resolution on Myanmar in 74 years, demanding an end to violence and for the junta to free all political detainees.
Myanmar’s generals have been barred from high-profile gatherings of Asean for failing to honour last year’s promises to start talks with opponents linked to the ousted civilian government. Thursday’s gathering in Bangkok was not a formal Asean event, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed.
The 10-member Asean grouping has seen internal discord about engaging with the military that seized power in Feb 1 last year, derailing a decade of democratic progress and plunging Myanmar into conflict and economic ruin.
There were no representatives at the talks from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore — the junta’s most vocal critics in the regional bloc. Brunei also did not take part.
The meeting featured “candid and constructive” discussion between the foreign ministers of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, said Kanchana Patarachoke, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“This included the opportunity to hear from Myanmar and to exchange views on finding the exit strategy and pathways towards a return to normalcy in Myanmar,” she said.
The meeting touched on facilitating humanitarian assistance, Ms Kanchana said, as well as “exploring other approaches that could support the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus”.
The five-point consensus is an agreement reached by all Asean leaders including Gen Min Aung Hlaing, at a meeting last year in Jakarta. The Myanmar government has completely ignored the agreement ever since.
Myanmar’s foreign affairs ministry said the delegation “cordially exchanged views on the matters of Myanmar’s … implementation of the Asean five-point consensus”.
It said the delegation “explained the terrorist activities” of opposition People’s Defence Forces (PDF) militias linked to the ousted National Unity Government (NUG).
“Therefore, the Myanmar delegation urged Asean member states to denounce terrorist activities of NUG, PDF and to discourage any moral, material and financial support for the terrorist organisations.”
In addition to Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, Myanmar was reprsented by Kan Zaw, minister for investment and foreign economic relations, and Ko Ko Hlaing, minister for international cooperation, the foreign ministry said.
Asean, which makes decisions by consensus, agreed last month to keep sidelining Myanmar’s generals until they comply with the five-point consensus, which remains the only diplomatic process in play.
Malaysia confirmed it would not attend the Bangkok meeting but did not provide a reason. The Philippines said its foreign minister would also not join, without elaborating.
The foreign ministries of Indonesia, the 2023 Asean chair, and Vietnam said their top diplomats were occupied with an official visit to Jakarta by Vietnam’s president.
Singapore’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, a diplomatic source who declined to be identified, read to Reuters what they said was a letter signed by Singapore’s foreign minister to the host, which objected to the Bangkok meeting as Asean had agreed to exclude the junta from such events.
The UN Security Council on Wednesday called for the Myanmar junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi as it adopted its first-ever resolution on the situation in the turmoil-ridden country.
The resolution received 12 votes in favour while China, Russia and India abstained.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, has been a prisoner since the army toppled her government almost two years ago and violently cracked down on dissent.
Wednesday’s resolution “urges” the junta to “immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners” including Aung San Suu Kyi and ex-president Win Myint.
It also demands “an immediate end to all forms of violence” and asks for “all parties to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”.
While permanent members China and Russia abstained, they opted not to wield their vetoes following amendments to the wording.
Britain began circulating a draft text of Wednesday’s resolution in September. Several amendments were made to ensure its passage, UN watchers say.
Several members also objected to a provision requesting the UN secretary-general to report to the council on the situation in Myanmar every 60 days.
Instead, the resolution calls for the secretary-general or his envoy to report back by March 15, 2023 in coordination with Asean.