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Myanmar’s promise to keep peace plan is 'too little too late'

ASEAN troika mulls options as foreign ministers meet in Phnom Penh with a sense of urgency after execution of four democracy actrivists
A group of activists shouts slogans demanding to free Japanese citizen Toru Kubota, who is detained in Myanmar, during a rally in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on July 31

A group of activists shouts slogans demanding to free Japanese citizen Toru Kubota, who is detained in Myanmar, during a rally in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on July 31. (Photo: Philip Fong/AFP)

Published: August 02, 2022 11:16 AM GMT

Promises by the military dictatorship in Myanmar to institute a five-point roadmap put forward by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and find some kind of peace in the conflict-wracked country have been dismissed by human rights groups and politicians.

The offer made by junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, which came after he announced a six-month extension to the current state of emergency, to be implemented as far as possible “as the situation has improved on all fronts” was too little too late, say rights groups.

A divided Southeast Asia has been told to stop wasting time and act against the junta as hundreds of diplomats from more than 40 countries arrive in Phnom Penh for the 55th edition of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

The execution of four democracy activists, including a former member of parliament on July 25 has added a sense of urgency to the annual forum of foreign ministers, amid fears that more military-sanctioned killings of those opposed to last year’s coup d’etat will follow.

Foreign ministers from the US, European Union, Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and South Korea, have described the executions as “reprehensible acts of violence that further exemplify the regime’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law.”

Malaysia also said the executions made a mockery of the ASEAN five-point consensus which included an end to the violence, constructive dialogue among all the parties, mediation through the ASEAN chair, humanitarian assistance and talks through by the special envoy to Myanmar.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said ASEAN had a “big decision” to make about the pact when its leaders’ summit is held in November. That decision was expected to be set in motion during the current ARF.

“Until today, there has been no real progress on the 5PC [Five-Point Consensus],” Saifuddin wrote on Facebook. “The violence continues, and in fact [has] gotten worse. … It shows the junta is making a mockery of the 5PC.”

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) wants “strong and coordinated measures” applied to Myanmar’s military following a failed and widely criticized attempt by Cambodia, as this year’s group chair, to push forward a peace plan and normalize ties with the junta.

“ASEAN member states must recognize that the Myanmar military has become a criminal organization that is holding hostage the whole of the country’s population,” said Eva Sundari, a former member of the House of Representatives in Indonesia and an APHR board member.

“Min Aung Hlaing has been given too much time to comply with the Five-Point Consensus, yet he has only shown that he respects neither the agreement nor ASEAN itself. It is time for him and his henchmen to pay the consequences.”

Myanmar was banned from ASEAN summits in response to the February 2021 military takeover and since then Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have been accused of helping the regime. However, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have formed a troika and are pressing for a much harsher response.

Sanctions and travel bans, full recognition of the National Unity Government (NUG) – established by Suu Kyi’s supporters – prosecution of the junta’s leaders before the International Criminal Court and Myanmar’s expulsion from ASEAN have all been touted.

Expulsion from the 10-nation bloc would be unlikely but all contact with the junta could cease and include non-military representatives who have been allowed to attend some ASEAN conferences as observers.

At least 2,100 civilians have been killed and more than 14,000 people arrested since the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was toppled.

Tokyo has confirmed that Myanmar security forces detained a Japanese filmmaker who was covering a demonstration on Sunday.

Myanmar is expected to dominate the three-day ARF, which brings together the 10 foreign ministers of ASEAN, alongside its 11 dialogue partners and observer nations. It begins Wednesday.

ASEAN’s critics have long ridiculed the bloc as a talkfest with no substance.

Bradley Murg, a senior adviser to the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace said Cambodia, as chair, would prefer not to see Myanmar raised as an issue at this summit.

But he added the “ASEAN approach alone is simply not going to be sufficient," adding there was a broader desire for a more global approach in dealing with the junta in Myanmar.

“The Myanmar question’s going to continue being on the table, despite Cambodia’s best efforts,” he said.

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