Indonesia’s Retno calls for all-round engagement in Myanmar as Asean’s peace plan falters

Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn (centre) speaks during a meeting with South-east Asian foreign ministers at the Asean secretariat in Jakarta on Oct 27. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA – Asean foreign ministers conveyed their concern and disappointment that there has been no significant progress on the “five-point consensus” peace deal on Myanmar, where violence has been escalating.

They had convened for a special meeting at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta on Thursday to discuss how to push forward the peace process in military-ruled Myanmar ahead of the Asean summit next month.

“Today’s meeting was conducted in a very open atmosphere. Many sensitive issues were discussed. As a family, it is important to have an open discussion for the good of all,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said at a press conference after the meeting. “This approach to keeping problems under the carpet should no longer be an option in the Asean’s working mechanism.”

Ms Retno said Asean’s engagement with the military regime is only part of all engagements. It is important that the Myanmar people hold a dialogue among themselves, while Asean facilitates, she stressed.

Dialogue towards a peace agreement among all parties is one point in the five-point consensus issued in April 2021 by nine Asean leaders and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.

The agreement had also called for an immediate halt to violence in Myanmar, the appointment of an Asean special envoy to facilitate mediation, for Asean to provide humanitarian assistance, and for a visit by an Asean delegation to Myanmar to “meet all parties concerned”.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry director general for Asean Cooperation Sidharto Suryodipuro told a press conference on Thursday that the National Unity Government (NUG) – which comprises ousted parliamentarians and allied pro-democracy groups – will be one of the stakeholders.

“Indonesia does not agree that there must be a permission from the junta,” he added.

According to the Asean Chair Statement released on Thursday, the foreign ministers reaffirmed the importance and relevance of the five-point consensus, and stressed the need to further strengthen its implementation through “concrete, practical and time-bound actions”.

They also unanimously agreed that decision-making in Asean to address the situation in Myanmar shall be based on consultation and consensus.

“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, which has been further exacerbated by the current political crisis,” the statement said.

Cambodia said Myanmar was invited to send a non-political representative to the meeting in Indonesia, but the junta did not agree.

Myanmar’s generals have been barred from high-level Asean meetings since 2021, when the military ousted Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February, detained her and thousands of activists, and launched a deadly crackdown against protesters.

“The engagement with the military has nothing to do with recognition. We are sure with the engagement with all stakeholders, Asean can carry out its function to hold a dialogue,” Ms Retno said.

“Myanmar’s problems can only be solved by the Myanmar people themselves. Therefore the dialogue between them becomes very important. Asean’s task is to facilitate.”

Asean has a long-standing policy of non-interference in member countries’ sovereign affairs, but some nations have called for the bloc to be bolder in taking action against the junta.

Cambodia, as Asean chair, on Tuesday expressed “grave concern” over increasing violence in Myanmar and urged the military junta to take concrete actions in forging a peaceful dialogue with its opposition.

In a statement, it also urged for “utmost restraint and the immediate cessation of violence”, which in recent weeks included a bombing of Myanmar’s largest prison where hundreds of political prisoners are being held.

On Sunday, about 80 people were killed after a military air strike on a concert held by an ethnic minority group that opposes the junta in Kachin State. In defence, Myanmar’s military forces, the Tatmadaw, has said the attack at the weekend was in line with the international rules of engagement.

On Thursday, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Facebook: “It is time for Asean to make some difficult decisions to guide our next steps on Myanmar. We discussed recommendations for our Leaders to consider at the Summits in November.”

Meanwhile, international civil society groups have called on Asean to disengage with the military regime, and criticised the five-point consensus and Asean special envoy in Myanmar as ineffective. In an open letter, they also said maintaining dialogues and visits will only embolden the junta.

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