ASEAN Special Envoy meets with Myanmar junta leader

RFA Burmese
2024.05.16
ASEAN Special Envoy meets with Myanmar junta leader ASEAN Special Envoy Alounkeo Kittikhoun (left) poses for a photograph with Myanmar’s junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in Naypyidaw, May 15, 2024.
[Courtesy Myanmar Military]

A Southeast Asian envoy this week met Myanmar’s junta chief to discuss a peaceful resolution to the civil war in the country, 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 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been trying to help restore democracy and peace in Myanmar after the February 2021 military coup there led to insurgent groups fighting with the junta’s forces to end its rule.

But the junta, led by Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, has largely shunned the efforts of the 10-member regional bloc of which it is a member.

ASEAN special envoy Alounkeo Kittikhoun and other bloc officials on Wednesday met the junta chief for talks in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, on Wednesday, the Burmese newspaper reported.

They discussed which issues the regional bloc would assist in, how to find a peaceful resolution to the current situation, and the possibility of ASEAN-Myanmar cooperation.

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

ASEAN had in April 2021 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.

‘One-sided talk’

A spokesperson for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), which claims the right to represent the country at the international level, dismissed the latest ASEAN effort as doomed, saying the military would not heed its 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 NUG’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, in 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, a news organization affiliated with BenarNews, that 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. 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.”

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