Lack of progress on Myanmar peace plans makes further engagement of limited value: Asean

Asean's foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh on Aug 3, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH - Myanmar's lack of progress in implementing plans agreed upon with the rest of Asean means engaging further with the country's military authorities is of limited value, the grouping's foreign ministers said on Wednesday (Aug 3).

At their meeting in Phnom Penh, the ministers reiterated the importance of continued implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, drawn up in April last year to bring an end to the violence and instability in Myanmar following a military coup in February 2021.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement after the meeting: "Without any progress on this front, further engagement with the Myanmar military authorities would be of limited value. Asean is exploring ways to engage with all stakeholders in Myanmar."

In April 2021, coup leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, agreed to five points: an immediate end to violence in the country, dialogue among all parties, an Asean special envoy to facilitate mediation, humanitarian assistance by Asean, and the special envoy's visit to Myanmar to meet all parties.

Asean has taken a consistent stance on Myanmar after the coup. The foreign minister appointed by Myanmar's ruling State Administration Council was not invited to the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) this year. This in line with Asean's view that Myanmar can be represented only by a non-political representative until there is progress in implementing the consensus.

The bloc had earlier condemned the execution of four activists by Myanmar's ruling military, which announced on July 25 that it had executed four men who were accused of aiding "terror acts".

MFA said the execution of the activists leading up to the AMM was a grave setback for Asean's efforts to facilitate a peaceful resolution, and for national reconciliation in Myanmar. It also disrespected the efforts of current Asean chair Cambodia and the Asean Special Envoy on Myanmar Prak Sokhonn.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the grouping will be forced to rethink peace plans made with Myanmar if the country's military rulers conduct more executions of prisoners.

He also noted that the bloc has spent much time and energy on Myanmar, and braved difficulties and criticism to help the country and its people find political solutions.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the executions reflected the Myanmar military authorities' clear disrespect for Asean, but stressed that the grouping's work must go on.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be held hostage, or let our current difficulties undermine Asean's centrality and unity," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan reiterated calls for the release of all political detainees in Myanmar, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the Asean Special Envoy on Myanmar to have access to all stakeholders, said MFA.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on the sidelines of the AMM that all of Asean's foreign ministers had decided they must have a paragraph on Myanmar in the joint communique. A joint communique agreed upon by all Asean members is traditionally released after the AMM.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said Myanmar's ruling military has been uncooperative, pointing to its lack of progress in implementing peace plans. Last week, he said Malaysia would present a framework for the consensus' implementation at the AMM, after critics commented on how the Myanmar executions made "a mockery" of Asean's peace plan.

At their meeting, the Asean foreign ministers also discussed the negative impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in particular on energy and food prices.

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