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Myanmar crisis spurs ASEAN talks

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Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre left) and ASEAN’s foreign ministers pose for a photo during the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh in August. Hong Menea

Myanmar crisis spurs ASEAN talks

ASEAN’S foreign ministers are planning to hold a special emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in Myanmar on October 27 in Jakarta, Indonesia, with the hope that it could pave the way for an agreement on a common solution in order for it to be put on the table at the ASEAN Summit next month in Cambodia.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Chum Sounry said on October 25 that the special meeting will be held at the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia and will discuss the five-point consensus (5PC) reached by ASEAN so that they can help Myanmar find a way out of the conflict.

He added that Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn, who is also the Special ASEAN Envoy to Myanmar, will attend the meeting on October 27.

“The upcoming meeting in Jakarta is an exchange of views on the five-point consensus to form the basis for resolving the Myanmar crisis at the upcoming 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits,” he said.

The ASEAN chair issued a press release stating that ASEAN was gravely concerned over the recent escalation of violence in Myanmar, including the bombing at Insein prison, hostilities in Karen State and the recent report of an air strike in Kachin State targeting a civilian gathering, which killed and injured dozens of people.

“We are deeply saddened by the growing casualties and the immense suffering that ordinary people in Myanmar have endured. We observe with alarm the intense fighting of late, which has not only resulted in worsening the humanitarian situation throughout Myanmar, but also goes against the spirit of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus and undermines the efforts of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN chair on Myanmar to make progress with its implementation,” the press release said.

The ASEAN chair strongly urged that all parties use the utmost restraint and called for an immediate cessation to the violence.

The press release called on all parties concerned – in particular singling out the party with the most significant military power on the ground, namely Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s Tatmadaw, as the military is known locally – to take concrete actions to enable a process of inclusive and constructive dialogue and to seek a peaceful solution and national reconciliation in Myanmar for the sake of peace, security and stability in the region.

On the morning of October 26, foreign affairs minister Sokhonn flew to Jakarta, Indonesia to chair the special meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers on October 27.

The meeting will review the progress made and the challenges faced in the implementation of the ASEAN 5PC on Myanmar.

Thong Mengdavid, a researcher at the Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies at the Asian Vision Institute, said that the emergency meeting should focus on reviewing the 5PC and discussing its feasibility and identify concrete objectives for the ASEAN Special Envoy’s third visit to Myanmar.

“Peace discussions in Myanmar have almost made the ASEAN member states lose their confidence in the 5PC as it offers the possibility of some other solution to the Myanmar crisis,” he said.

Mengdavid stated that Cambodia, as ASEAN’s chair, will stand by its position calling for a cessation of all violence, including the killing of political activists, because it is an important step that must be achieved before bringing all of the parties to the conflict into an international mediation of their internal political crisis.

Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council (SAC), led by military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has repeatedly engaged in deadly violence against civilians and other provocations, including the execution of civilian politicians it had held in custody and the ongoing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi after the military overthrew her elected civilian government on February 1, 2021.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that the ASEAN chair’s statement was to remind the parties to the conflict in Myanmar that the world is watching, especially Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s SAC, which has always violated ASEAN’s measures while defying the wishes of the international community.

He said that the SAC “provoked ASEAN, especially Cambodia, which will chair the ASEAN Summit and related meetings in November. This time the problem is similar to the previous situation where just before the [ASEAN] meeting they sentenced to death those political activists. Now, this time, they’ve killed about 50 innocent people with an airstrike on a rally,” he said.

Peou added that ASEAN should take another step towards the temporary suspension of Myanmar’s membership, which has never before been done in the history of ASEAN but may be necessary to force the SAC to abide by the 5PC.

Vann Bunna, research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said ASEAN’s members could work together to impose sanctions on the top leaders of the SAC or cooperate further with the UN and approach the Myanmar crisis as an international problem in addition to a regional problem in order to increase the pressure on the military-backed council and its stakeholders to the next level.

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