ASEAN special envoy meets with Myanmar junta leader

They discussed upcoming election plans and the possibility of future aid.
By RFA Burmese
2024.05.16
ASEAN special envoy meets with Myanmar junta leader ASEAN Special Envoy Alounkeo Kittikhoun (L) visited Myanmar and met with junta leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in Naypyidaw on May 15.
Myanmar Military

UPDATED on May 16, 2024 at 2:33 p.m. ET

A Southeast Asian envoy has met Myanmar’s junta leader to discuss a peaceful resolution to its problems, a junta controlled newspaper reported on Thursday, but a shadow government opposed to military rule said there could be no solution without its involvement.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has been trying to help fellow member Myanmar end bloody turmoil sparked by a 2021 military coup but Myanmar’s junta has largely shunned its efforts.

ASEAN Special Envoy Alounkeo Kittikhoun met junta chief Min Aung Hliang for talks in the capital, Naypyidaw, on Wednesday. ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Kao Kim Hourn and ASEAN Humanitarian Aid Coordination Center Executive Director Lee Yam Ming took part in the meeting, the Myanma Alin newspaper reported.

The ASEAN envoy and Myanmar’s top general discussed which issues the bloc would assist in, finding a peaceful resolution to the current situation and the possibility of ASEAN-Myanmar cooperation, it said.

Myanmar’s crisis has raised questions about the effectiveness of the 10-member grouping in tackling problems in a region where both China and the United States compete for influence.

ASEAN has drawn up a five-point peace plan aimed at ending the violence and promoting dialogue. The plan includes talks with leaders of all sides, including the imprisoned democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi. But she remains in jail while fighting between junta forces and insurgents opposed to military rule has intensified.

While ASEAN has excluded Myanmar’s leaders from most of its summits some members, including neighbors Thailand and current ASEAN chair Laos, have engaged with the junta. Others, however, have condemned the Myanmar military for the coup and subsequent crackdowns on dissent. 

The ASEAN humanitarian center has overseen a Thai aid delivery to Myanmar, raising the possibility of an expanded cross-border humanitarian role for the grouping.

A spokesperson for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, which claims the right to represent the country on an international level, dismissed the latest ASEAN effort as doomed, saying the military would not heed ASEAN’s peace plan. 

“If they meet and hold a one-sided talk with the military council, nothing will happen,” said Nay Phone Latt, a representative of the organization’s prime minister’s office. “It is also necessary for ASEAN representatives to meet and discuss with ethnic armed groups, [and] the National Unity Government, which are the main players in Myanmar.”

Envoy Kittikhoun held talks with the NUG’s foreign minister, Zin Mar Aung, following his first visit to Myanmar in January.

Pro-democracy activists loyal to the NUG have formed militias in various parts of the country to fight the military in cooperation with ethnic minority insurgent groups that have been battling for self-determination for decades.

Junta forces have faced setbacks in several places since their opponents launched offensives late last year while the fighting has displaced about 3 million people.

The ASEAN envoy and the junta chief also discussed humanitarian assistance while the military explained its strategy to prepare for promised elections, the newspaper reported.

Political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe told Radio Free Asia it was not clear how much talks brokered by international parties such as ASEAN could really help Myanmar.

“The international assumption is that issues in Myanmar could be resolved through dialogue,” he said. “That’s why it is urging the military council to meet and discuss. But we will have to wait and see how far that would help in practice.”

Leading role

The meetings were prompted by the Thai government’s suggestion that the three ASEAN rotating chairpersons take the lead on the Myanmar issue, following intense fighting in the Thai-Myanmar border trade town of Myawaddy last April.

A political analyst and a columnist, speaking anonymously for security reasons, told RFA that it could be linked to Thailand's proposals.

"Regarding Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and others, the ASEAN countries are each pursuing their own approaches. What they want is the five-point plan of ASEAN, and to implement these. That's their shared goal."

San Aung, political activist based in Thailand, told RFA that however, the rotating chairman of ASEAN, which is influenced by China, will not be able to provide an effective solution to the Myanmar issue.

"The current chairmanship belongs to Lao. Laos is already struggling with debt from China. Given the circumstances where they may feel compelled to align with China’s proposals, their autonomy is limited. Under these conditions, we should not expect too much from ASEAN."

He also said that this is not the first instance where consecutive military coups in Myanmar have failed to yield an effective solution from ASEAN.

Political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe told RFA that the international community, including ASEAN and the United Nations, believes that the Myanmar issue can only be resolved through dialogue.

"The international assumption is that issues in Myanmar could be resolved through dialogue. That is why they are urging the military council to meet and discuss. But we will have to wait and see how far that would help in practice.”

A spokesperson for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government’s Prime Minister's Office, Nay Phone Latt, told RFA that the Myanmar issue cannot be resolved just by meeting with the military council.

"If they meet and hold a one-sided talk with the military council, nothing will happen. It is also necessary for ASEAN representatives to meet and discuss with ethnic armed groups, (and) the National Unity Government, which are the main players in Myanmar."

He added that the military council will not follow the five-point plan of ASEAN without practical action, so it should be done with effective measures.

As per the joint declaration of the NUG and the three ethnic armed groups, it is founded on the principles such as terminating the involvement of the military in politics, abolishing the 2008 Constitution, establishing a federal union, and ensuring justice throughout the transitional period.

A former military officer and political analyst who preferred not to be named for security reasons, told RFA that the recent meeting might focus on humanitarian aid and electoral issues.

“Maybe it's about humanitarian aid. Additionally, ASEAN can urge (the military council) about the election issue. Dialogue proves to be more challenging for the military government compared to elections.”

This marks the second visit of the ASEAN Special Representative to Myanmar. During his initial visit on January 10, he met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, ethnic armed groups in discussions regarding peace with the military council, as well as representatives from some political parties.

Despite ongoing efforts from ASEAN's rotating chairmanship countries: Brunei, Cambodia and Indonesia, to address the Myanmar crisis over the past three years, none have succeeded in finding a resolution. Furthermore, they have been unable to secure a meeting with imprisoned democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan, and Mike Firn, and Eugene Whong. 

Update adds more expert reactions.

 



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