Myanmar junta asks ethnic armies, political parties to meet new ASEAN envoy

But the groups do not include key stakeholders from the opposition.
By RFA Burmese
Myanmar junta asks ethnic armies, political parties to meet new ASEAN envoy ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar Alounkeo Kittikhoun from Laos, shown at 2021 ASEAN meeting, is scheduled to visit the country this week.
Roslan Rahman/AFP

Myanmar’s military junta has invited representatives from several ethnic armies and heads of political parties to meet with the new ASEAN special envoy during a planned visit this week. However, several key stakeholders will be absent from talks, including members of the opposition.

Alounkeo Kittikhoun, vice minister of foreign affairs for Laos, assumed the office of the regional bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar after his country took on the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for 2024.

He will attempt to deal with Myanmar’s ongoing post-coup crisis while working to ensure the junta does not hold ASEAN hostage in its dealings with the bloc.

Ahead of Alounkeo’s visit, Myanmar’s military regime invited seven of the country’s 10 ethnic armies that have signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, as well as the heads of the 45 registered political parties to attend talks with the envoy. 

While no dates have been officially announced, invitees said that the meeting with ethnic armies will take place on Wednesday in the capital Naypyidaw, while the meeting with political parties will occur on Friday in Yangon.

Colonel Saw Kyaw Nyunt, the General Secretary of the Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, said that his group expects to discuss ways to end the country’s political crisis and facilitate humanitarian assistance amid widespread violence – a process that began during Indonesia’s chairmanship last year.

“We expect to find a potential way to overcome the three-year crisis during the visit of the new envoy,” he said, without providing details.

Aiming for an election

Of the 10 ethnic armies that have signed the ceasefire, three were not invited to this week’s meeting. The Karen National Union, the Chin National Front, and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front are all signatories, but are currently engaged in fighting with the military.

Tin Swe, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, told RFA Burmese that his party will request assistance from Alounkeo to hold an immediate general election in Myanmar.

“Elections can only be held if there is an end to the ongoing armed conflict,” he said. “We hope ASEAN can assist in holding such an election.”

The seat reserved for Myanmar's head of delegation remains empty during the opening session of the 17th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 15, 2023. (Dita Alangkara/Pool/AFP)
The seat reserved for Myanmar's head of delegation remains empty during the opening session of the 17th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 15, 2023. (Dita Alangkara/Pool/AFP)

The junta and its supporters want to hold a general election to end a state of emergency that has been in place in Myanmar since the Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat, but observers say such a ballot would be neither free nor fair and would only serve to legitimize the military’s grasp on power.

The regime has ignored calls to allow all stakeholders, including the deposed National League for Democracy, the shadow National Unity Government, and various anti-junta forces, from meeting with visiting ASEAN officials. Critics say there can be no meaningful move towards a resolution of the crisis unless all parties have a seat at the table.

Key stakeholders missing

Kyaw Zaw, the spokesperson of the President’s Office under the National Unity Government, or NUG – made up of leaders of the former, ousted civilian government and other activists – said his administration welcomes the new ASEAN special envoy’s efforts to resolve the conflict.

But he called for the envoy to also meet with anti-junta groups such as the NUG, instead of only holding talks with stakeholders selected by the military.

“He should also meet with the NUG, which represents the people of Myanmar, the ethnic armed organizations which are benefiting ethnic groups, and other revolutionary forces,” he said, adding that he is holding out hope that such a sit-down might still take place.

RFA sent a request for comment on the pending visit to the Lao Embassy in Yangon, but had yet to receive a response by the time of publishing. Similarly, calls to junta Deputy Information Minister Major General Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Tuesday.

Aung Myo, a former military officer and political commentator, told RFA that Alounkeo will request a meeting with jailed National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit, and that the junta would grant such a request under certain conditions.

“If the special envoy agrees not to release certain information during his press conference after meeting with Aung San Kuu Kyi, he would be allowed to meet with her,” he said.

The former State Councilor and former President Win Myint, who were arrested along with other senior members of the NLD in the aftermath of the coup remain incarcerated on lengthy prison sentences under various charges.

Tumultuous relations

ASEAN adopted a ‘five-point’ consensus in April 2021 to end violence in Myanmar and bring the country back to the path of democracy, but rotating ASEAN chairs Brunei, Cambodia and Indonesia have all failed to effectively address the crisis over the past three years.

The consensus – which was agreed to by the junta – called for an end to violence, the provision of humanitarian assistance, the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy, all-party dialogue, and mediation by the envoy.

Moreover, top junta officials, including junta chief Senior Gen.l Min Aung Hlaing, have been barred from attending ASEAN summits because of the regime’s failure to implement the consensus.

In addition to his role as the vice minister for foreign affairs, Alounkeo Kittikhoun has served as ambassador to the U.N. for the Lao government and is a veteran diplomat.

The first ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar after the military coup was Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Erywan Yusof of Brunei during that country’s rotating chair of the bloc in 2021. He tried to visit Myanmar in October 2021, but his trip was canceled because the junta did not agree to some of his terms. 

During the 2022 term of the ASEAN rotating chair, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn of Cambodia served as the special envoy. He made two visits to Myanmar in one year, but his requests for a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi were denied by the junta.

Indonesia chose an approach of “silent diplomacy,” during its term last year and sent no special envoy to Myanmar. Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said on Jan. 8 that his government held a total of 265 meetings with the junta to address the crisis in Myanmar, but made little progress.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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