ASEAN foreign ministers back ‘Myanmar-owned and led’ solution to crisis

January 30, 2024 - 2:12 PM
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A worker adjusts an ASEAN flag at a meeting hall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, October 28, 2021. (Reuters/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo)

Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Monday pressed for an end to Myanmar‘s bloody conflict and expressed unity in their backing for a regional peace plan and a “Myanmar-owned and led solution” to the crisis.

In a statement after an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) retreat, the ministers gave support for efforts by the new special envoy on the crisis, from Laos, in “reaching out to parties concerned” and expressed confidence in his resolve to help the Myanmar people.

Myanmar has been locked in conflict since the military seized power in a coup in 2021 that sparked nationwide chaos and abruptly ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform.

The new special envoy, Alounkeo Kittikhoun, met the junta chief during a visit to Myanmar earlier this month, according to its state media. Neither ASEAN nor Laos has yet made an announcement about that trip and it is unclear if he met any anti-junta groups.

“We reaffirmed ASEAN’s commitment to assisting Myanmar in finding a peaceful, comprehensive, and durable solution to the ongoing crisis, as Myanmar remains an integral part of ASEAN,” the minister said in the statement.

“We reaffirmed ASEAN unity and reiterated that any effort should support, in line with the (peace plan) and in coordination with the chair,” it said, urging cessation of violence and restraint to allow humanitarian access.

ASEAN has faced internal discord over how to address the crisis.

Fighting on multiple fronts 

The junta has been fighting on multiple fronts to put down a rebellion by pro-democracy militias allied with a shadow government and ethnic minority armies, calling them “terrorists” and refusing to negotiate with them. More than 2 million people have been displaced.

The previous ASEAN chair, Indonesia, initiated a flurry of quiet diplomacy to encourage dialogue between Myanmar‘s warring parties, but some analysts have cast doubts on whether new chair Laos has the clout or will to advance that.

Myanmar sent a bureaucrat to Monday’s meeting, accepting for the first time ASEAN’s invitation for it to send a “non-political” representative to meetings from which its top generals are barred over their failure to implement the peace plan they agreed to with ASEAN two months after the coup.

The junta has been furious over what it calls ASEAN interference in its internal affairs.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, in a text message to Reuters, said the attendance of Myanmar‘s acting permanent secretary of its foreign ministry, Malar Than Htike, marked no change in ASEAN’s policy.

Myanmar shall not affect ASEAN decision making,” she said.

The ASEAN ministers also called for restraint and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and urged a conducive environment for the furthering of talks towards a code of conduct between ASEAN and China.

— Reporting by Ananda Teresia in Jakarta and Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok and Martin Petty; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson