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ASEAN ends its Myanmar silence with a ‘usual’ statement

Thailand urges Hlaing to release Aung San Suu Kyi immediately to advance implementation of ASEAN's five-point consensus
Thai military personnel keep guard along the Moei river on the Thai side, next to the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 12. Myanmar troops have withdrawn from their positions in a trade hub near the Thai border, a spokesman for the junta said, confirming reports from an ethnic armed group that has been battling the military for days.

Thai military personnel keep guard along the Moei river on the Thai side, next to the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 12. Myanmar troops have withdrawn from their positions in a trade hub near the Thai border, a spokesman for the junta said, confirming reports from an ethnic armed group that has been battling the military for days. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 19, 2024 11:15 AM GMT
Updated: April 19, 2024 11:15 AM GMT

Thailand has urged the Myanmar military to immediately release ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former president U Win Myint as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ended its long silence with an “unfortunate statement” regarding its war-torn neighbor.

Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said his country welcomed the transfer of Suu Kyi and Myint from prison to their homes earlier this week “as a positive step in responding to the concerns of the international community.”

“The Thai Government calls for further positive steps in this direction leading to their immediate full release in order to advance the implementation of the ASEAN five-point consensus,” he said.

ASEAN’s five-point consensus is a lengthy road map for peace, but its implementation has proved an abysmal failure on the ground in Myanmar and has been ridiculed by academics, analysts, politicians, and independent journalists as an exercise in obfuscation by the 10-nation bloc.

Late on April 17, ASEAN ended a drawn-out silence — with Laos as chair — and issued a statement urging all parties “to create a conducive environment through the full and swift implementation of the five-point consensus.”

That’s unlikely given the impressive battlefield success of some 20 armed ethnic organizations (EAOs), the People’s Defence Force (PDF), and the opposition National Unity Government (NUG). All have been widely ignored by ASEAN throughout the three-year conflict.

Charles Santiago, co-chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights told UCA News that “absolutely nothing has come out of ASEAN since Laos assumed the chair” late last year, but said he hopes that the situation might improve when Malaysia takes over in 2025.

The statement was a cut and paste from previous ASEAN efforts, repeating the same line that: “We also reaffirm that a peaceful and unified Myanmar is in the interest of ASEAN.”

“We urge all parties for an immediate cessation of violence and to exercise utmost restraint, to uphold international humanitarian law, and to take all the necessary measures to defuse tensions and to ensure the protection and safety of all civilians, including foreign nationals …”

One Western analyst with years of experience inside Myanmar told UCA News that ASEAN had paid only lip service to the EAOs-PDF while turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the military and that its five-point roadmap for peace was “simply not in the mix.”

“The latest statement is equally glib, unfortunate and unacceptable,” he said.

“They [ASEAN] always say that and it amounts to nothing but right now they are spooked. Unprecedented victories by the EAOs-PDF over the last five months caught them by surprise, more so for some in ASEAN who quietly backed the junta,” he said.

According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Myanmar is the most violent among the 50 wars it tracks globally, with an estimated death toll of at least 50,000 people since the 2021 military coup, including at least 8,000 civilians.

Myanmar aside, the remaining nine members of ASEAN are divided between democratically elected governments and autocratic one-party states — like Laos and Cambodia — who have been blamed for favoring the junta and doing little to negotiate with all parties.

Former Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has offered to mediate, but senior sources within the PDF have said he is unacceptable given his close ties with junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing.

PDF sources say only Indonesia and Singapore are acceptable in negotiations, while talks with Thailand were inevitable given their shared border and a change in government has improved the prospect of dialogue. The Philippines is also favored given policy shifts since the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Timor-Leste, which is scheduled to become the 11th member of ASEAN, is also a contender given its vociferous criticisms of the military since its ousting of Suu Kyi. As one analyst put it: “Timor-Leste could swing the balance within ASEAN to a more sensible approach.”

Washington DC-based analysts, long frustrated with the rhetoric stemming out of ASEAN, are talking about granting EAOs their cherished dream of becoming independent nations. The Karen in the southeast and Shan in the north are frontrunners.

To ensure this, they said military peacekeepers would be required but added that ASEAN is incapable while the United Nations has potential, as does neighboring countries like Bangladesh, India and China. But India and China are also problematic given their meddling and limited support for Hlaing.

Essentially, the EAOs-PDF would be responsible for their respective states and Myanmar’s borders while in Barmer, in the centre of the country, the junta would have to lay down their weapons to peacekeepers charged with monitoring the perimeter, including the Yangon-Naypyidaw corridor.

As one analyst, in Washington, said: “There’s still some time to go before that can happen. But some of the EAOs do have the ear of people in power. The immediate question is whether the EAOs-PDF are going to reach outside their native states and try to seize power in Naypyidaw.

“Can they overrun the centre of the country? ” he said, telling UCA News the Arakan, Shan, Karen, Kayin, Wa, Mon and other ethnic groups will probably be more focused on restoring their political order over the coming months.

He also suggested that Suu Kyi could make a suitable state-leader for the Barmer population once the military under Hlaing is dismantled. Only then can serious round table discussions begin with the NUG “as a party not a moderator” in regard to a federal state and a new constitution.

“The NUG wants to restore the order which came with elections in November 2020. But that is unworkable and that’s unacceptable for the EAOs. They’ve been fighting for independence and now they hold military control. They are in the driver’s seat,” he said.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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