Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn, in his capacity as the ASEAN special envoy on Myanmar, on June 30 delivered two million Covid-19 vaccine doses donated by China, through the bloc, to the crisis-hit country, stressing that humanitarian assistance should not be curtailed due to politics or race.
According to an ASEAN press statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the two million doses were part of the ASEAN Five Point Consensus (5PC) plan adopted in April of last year.
A ceremonial handover of the jabs was held in Yangon and attended by Sokhonn, who is on his second trip scheduled to last for five days.
Ekkaphab Phanthavong, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, and Chinese ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai were also in attendance at the ceremony.
At the ceremony, Sokhonn said that humanitarian assistance should be distributed to all those in need without regard for ethnicity or faction.
“All stakeholders, including external parties, should set aside political differences and mobilise under the humanitarian umbrella to gradually improve the situation on the ground,” said the statement. “Any part of Myanmar is important and what is most important is that the first step needs to be taken,” Sokhonn was quoted as saying.
According to the statement, the donated vaccines will be administered to the people of Myanmar and particularly those who live in hard-to-reach areas under the 50/50 mechanism initiated by Cambodia that was adopted at the Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar on May 6 of this year in Phnom Penh.
“The [donation] is a testimony to ASEAN’s collective commitment to implement the Five-Point Consensus with support from dialogue partners such as China and other relevant external parties, which serves to promote ASEAN centrality when addressing regional issues of common concern,” it said.
Speaking at a press conference held just before his departure for Myanmar from Phnom Penh International Airport, Sokhonn said that working on humanitarian assistance was one of the top priorities for his trip, but another purpose for the visit is to attempt to calm the situation in the country.
“This requires respecting ceasefire agreements and tolerance from all sides in refraining from the use of force to solve the conflict. Instead, they all need to be willing to solve the problem in a peaceful way,” Sokhonn said. “Then we will try to build trust between all of the stakeholders or reach a point where trust can begin to be built that will lead to negotiations and national reconciliation.”
The special envoy said Cambodia has many pertinent lessons to share with Myanmar, but the Kingdom cannot force the country to follow its advice.
“We want to show them a viable path towards sustainable peace and national reconciliation, but then it will be their choice as to whether they take it. This is our endeavour on behalf of the ASEAN chair in 2022,” he said.
Sokhonn noted that he has requested a meeting with the other parties involved in the Myanmar conflict aside from the ruling State Administration Council (SAC) led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, including the other armed groups, opposition political parties and representatives of the former civilian administration.
He said that during his meetings with the various stakeholder groups in Myanmar, he would convey the concerns and requests of ASEAN member states – as well as those of the international community – regarding the crisis.
The Myanmar-based newspaper Popular New Journal reported on June 29 that on July 1, Sokhonn will meet in Naypyidaw with several of the armed ethnic groups that have controlled swaths of the nation’s territory for many years and have had varying degrees of autonomy there long before the current crisis.
The groups named as participants at the meeting with Sokhonn include the Karen National Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC); Karen Army for Democracy (DKBA); Arakan State Liberation Party (ALP); New Mon State Party (NMSP); The Pa-O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO) and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU).