ASEAN envoy for Myanmar crisis arrives on first mission

BANGKOK (AP) — Cambodia’s foreign minister arrived Monday in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw on his mission as a special regional envoy seeking to facilitate peacemaking in the fellow Southeast Asian nation, which was plunged into an extended violent political crisis after the army seized power last year.

Prak Sokhonn is representing ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which last April reached a five-point consensus on Myanmar. It called for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels, and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties.

The ruling military council of Myanmar, which is one of ASEAN’s 10 members, has delayed implementation of its plan, even as the country has slipped into a situation that U.N. experts have characterized as a civil war. Neither the military nor its opponents have suggested mutually acceptable compromises that could stem the violence, much less resolve the political impasse over ruling the country.

Soon after their arrival for their three-day visit, Prak Sokhonn and his party, including ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, held a meeting with Myanmar’s leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and other top officials, during which they discussed implementation of the five-point plan, conditions for providing humanitarian assistance and cooperation with ASEAN, said a statement from Myanmar’s Information Ministry.

The statement, which described the meeting as a “first step,” said Min Aung Hlaing also presented his government’s versions of the events leading to the army’s takeover and the violence that followed it.

Myanmar’s reluctance to implement the actions urged in the consensus has caused a split among the members of ASEAN, which has ostracized Myanmar by blocking its leaders from attending major meetings of the regional grouping. Min Aung Hlaing was not invited to last October’s virtual meeting of ASEAN leaders because of the disagreement.

That rebuke was issued shortly after Myanmar declined to let an ASEAN special envoy meet with its ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the military took power in February 2021.

The army ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government and then cracked down on the widespread protests against its action. After security forces unleashed lethal force against peaceful demonstrators, some opponents of military rule took up arms.

A statement issued last Friday by Cambodia’s foreign ministry said Prak Sokhonn’s first visit as ASEAN’s special envoy “will be aimed at creating a favorable condition leading to the end of violence as well as the utmost restraint by all parties,” along with distributing humanitarian assistance and encouraging political consultation or dialogue among all concerned parties.

Prak Sokhonn became the ASEAN special envoy after Cambodia took over as this year’s chair for the regional grouping.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed interest in engaging more closely with Myanmar’s generals and in January this year became the first head of government to pay an official visit to Myanmar since the army seized power.

According to Cambodian officials, Myanmar’s military have given permission for ASEAN’s envoy to meet with other members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. However, virtually all its major leaders are jailed, like Suu Kyi, or in hiding to escape arrest.

The most important opposition force in Myanmar currently is the National Unity Government, a shadow civilian administration established largely by elected lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s party who were blocked from taking their seats by the army takeover.

Prak Sokhonn said last month he believes he should meet with Myanmar’s National Unity Government even though the country’s military considers it a terrorist organization. All of its civilian leaders are in hiding or in exile.

He said that if Myanmar’s military government is unwilling to talk directly with the National Unity Government, he could serve as a bridge between the contending parties. But he cautioned that this would have to be done in a way that did not create friction between the ASEAN envoy and Myanmar’s military government.

The National Unity Government issued a statement about the visit, calling on the ASEAN special envoy to meet with it and other representatives of Myanmar’s resistance to the military government.

It said it supported the envoy’s efforts to resolve Myanmar’s crisis and called for implementing the five-point consensus.

But another major opposition group, the General Strike Coordination Body, said its 36 member organizations condemned the ASEAN special envoy’s visit as an attempt to support the military council without fully recognizing the will of the people in the country.

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