Myanmar crisis dominates ASEAN foreign ministers


Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states are preparing additional steps or adjustments to measures against Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since a coup in February 2021, following the execution by the junta of four people, including two pro-democracy activists. last month.

The executions, carried out the week before a series of ASEAN-sponsored foreign ministerial meetings beginning Wednesday in Phnom Penh, provoked swift international condemnation, thwarting efforts to restore peace in Myanmar.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh on August 3, 2022. (TBEN)

Before the four were executed, Cambodia, ASEAN’s rotating chairman this year, called on other member states to allow Myanmar’s foreign minister to attend the meeting, according to a report written by Cambodia’s foreign minister. Prak Sokhonn, which was distributed to ministers and seen by TBEN News.

ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s foreign minister and the head of its military government from meetings of the regional group since October last year, in response to the coup that ousted the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the subsequent violent crackdown of pro-democracy protests.

Despite the request of Prak Sokhonn, the current ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar who visited the country from June 30 to July 2, Cambodia’s annual meeting of foreign ministers took place without Myanmar.

Cambodia and all ASEAN member states are deeply disappointed and alarmed by the execution of those opposition activists, despite calls from me and others to reconsider the death sentence in the interests of political dialogue, peace and reconciliation. Prime Minister. Hun Sen said at the opening of the meeting.

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ASEAN will have to tackle the crisis in Myanmar in a new way if the military junta continues to execute more opposition activists, he said.

ASEAN has continued talks with Myanmar and called for an end to the violence, adopted as part of a group’s five-point consensus. But amid a lack of progress by the junta in implementing the consensus, which mainly referred to ending violence against the junta’s political opponents and civilian protesters, the group may need to change course in its dealings with Myanmar, it said. an ASEAN source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Additional measures, or the adjustment of the process (for peace), will be the issue that ASEAN foreign ministers will discuss,” the source said, without providing details.

There are differences between ASEAN members regarding Myanmar and it is not clear whether the regional group will be able to reach an agreement on the Myanmar issue.

According to the draft joint communiqué to be issued after the meeting, some countries have suggested that “ASEAN condemns the execution of the four people and was deeply disappointed”.

On Tuesday, ASEAN diplomatic sources told TBEN News that the draft could also say the executions were “extremely reprehensible” and “caused a serious setback and show a profound lack of will to support the efforts, particularly by the ASEAN president.” to speed up the execution. implementation of the consensus.

However, as Myanmar officials who attended a meeting ahead of the ministerial meeting protested the strong language, the source said the ministers are expected to discuss the wording.

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Participants at a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers pose for photos in Phnom Penh on August 3, 2022, with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in the center. (TBEN) ==TBEN

Malaysia is among the members who have taken a critical stance on Myanmar and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah complained in a tweet on Sunday that no real progress had been made with the consensus, saying: “the violence continues and (is ) has in fact gotten worse,” and the junta has monopolized and politicized ASEAN’s humanitarian aid.

Saifuddin, who has met with members of the national unity government set up by pro-democracy forces like a shadow government of Myanmar, and other factions in the country, said ASEAN foreign ministers set a framework for the Junta should introduce every five-point consensus.

ASEAN leaders, including Junta Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, reached a consensus on Myanmar at a special summit in April 2021. It also included the dispatch of the group’s special envoy to meet with all parties concerned.

But Prak Sokhonn, the special envoy, was unable to meet Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the coup, and other leaders of the National League for Democracy party she led during his recent visit to Myanmar.

Although Min Aung Hlaing said in a televised speech on Monday that some points of the consensus will be implemented this year, it is not known whether the junta will take any action.

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Also on the agenda of the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting are the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the US-China rivalry in the region and North China. Korea.

The meeting is part of a series of talks until Friday and Cambodia has invited Russia, one of ASEAN’s partner countries, to attend some of them. ASEAN sources have confirmed that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be in attendance.

A senior ASEAN official who declined to be identified said its member states have differing views on the situation in Ukraine, with Singapore, which views the war as an invasion by Russia, having imposed sanctions.

However, according to the draft joint communiqué, ASEAN members have generally agreed to support UN efforts to end the war and facilitate access to humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

The series of meetings will be held locally, unlike the previous two years when they were held virtually or in hybrid form due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meetings include the ASEAN Regional Forum, a 27-member regional security forum that also involves China, North Korea, Russia and the United States, and a ministerial session of the East Asia Summit, both set to take place Friday.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

(Chananthorn Kamjan and Christine Tjandraningsih contributed to this story)

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