Government and think-tank representatives from Myanmar and its neighbours, including Thailand, China and India, held talks in New Delhi on Tuesday as part of a secretive effort to de-escalate a bloody crisis in the army-run country, two sources said.
The talks this week were the second in a so-called Track 1.5 dialogue that started in Thailand last month. They came as frustration grows within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) bloc at the military’s failure to implement a peace plan that it agreed to in April 2021.
The sources, who asked not to be named and declined to identify the representatives because the process was confidential, said Myanmar, India, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos were present at Tuesday’s meeting, as was Indonesia, the current Asean chair.
One of the sources said participants were interested in bringing into the process Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), an organisation affiliated with the resistance and declared “terrorists” by the junta.
“They want to talk to the NUG at some point in time officially, because the NUG and the Myanmar army haven’t spoken officially at all,” said the source, who was briefed on the meeting. “These are the hopes that the participants have.”
Myanmar was plunged into conflict and economic chaos in 2021 after its powerful military overthrew the elected civilian government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering an armed resistance that it has sought to violently crush.
The foreign ministries of India and Thailand, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and the NUG did not immediately respond to queries from Reuters about this week’s meeting. A spokesperson for Myanmar’s State Administrative Council, as the government is formally known, could not be reached. A spokesperson for Indonesia’s foreign ministry said he was not aware of the meeting.
The meeting was hosted by an Indian think-tank and included discussion on all sides about reducing violence, creating space for dialogue and the delivery of humanitarian aid, the second source said, adding that the next meeting would be in Laos.
“The neighbouring countries’ perspective needs to be taken into account,” said the source, “For them, the foremost priority is the de-escalation of the violence.”
The junta has been shunned by Western countries but has stepped up engagement with Russia and recently hosted visitors from Thailand, including senior military officers and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.
Mr Don and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing last Friday discussed the haze that has been plaguing the region as well as border security and other issues, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
Retired diplomat Ban Ki-moon, who made multiple trips to Myanmar when he was the head of the United Nations, met the junta leader and its reformist former president on Monday and called for an immediate end to violence.
Asean’s peace plan, known as the five-point consensus, is the only official diplomatic process in play for Myanmar and includes halting hostilities and starting dialogue between all parties. However, it has been largely ignored by the junta.
Asean has barred representatives of the military government from attending most of its meetings until they implement the plan, which has infuriated the generals.
“This effort will not supplant Asean,” the second source said of the ongoing Track 1.5 talks. “This will only complement it.”