Burmese junta blocks ASEAN envoy from meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi

Special to BenarNews
Burmese junta blocks ASEAN envoy from meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks to reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport upon his return from Myanmar, March 23, 2022.
Handout photo from Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Burmese junta turned down a request by ASEAN envoy Prak Sokhonn to meet with deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his three-day visit to Myanmar despite its pledge to grant him access to all political stakeholders, he said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters at the airport in Phnom Penh after returning home from his first official trip to Myanmar, Prak Sokhonn said he had personally asked to arrange a sit-down with the detained Nobel Peace laureate, but junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said it was impossible due to her ongoing trial.

“Min Aung Hlaing claimed that in the future he will consider requests [to visit] not only Aung San Suu Kyi, but also other people,” said the envoy, who is also the minister of foreign affairs for Cambodia, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD), was arrested by the military after its Feb. 1, 2021, coup and is now in prison, facing a raft of charges by the junta.

After a meeting with Min Aung Hlaing on Monday, Prak Sokhonn had been scheduled to meet with Su Su Lwin, the wife of former President Htin Kyaw and a member of the NLD for Yangon’s Thongwa township, but she canceled the talks citing health reasons, in what appeared to be a backtrack by the party. The NLD’s Central Working Committee later told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that only Aung San Suu Kyi could speak on its behalf. BenarNews is a unit of RFA.

The lesser-known opposition People Party said in a statement that a delegation of its leaders — including 88 Generation student group veteran Ko Ko Gyi — met with Prak Sokhonn on Tuesday to discuss possible resolutions to the crisis.

The party, which has far fewer supporters than the NLD and is unlikely to mount any serious electoral bid, called for ASEAN pressure on the junta to release all political prisoners, prevent further casualties, grant wider access to humanitarian groups, and hold a dialogue with a diverse set of political players.

The junta claims its coup was justified because the NLD used voter fraud to orchestrate a landslide victory at the polls in November 2020 but has yet to present evidence of its allegations. Security forces have killed at least 1,700 people in the nearly 14 months since the coup and arrested more than 9,870, mostly during peaceful anti-junta demonstrations.

At the end of an emergency meeting of ASEAN leaders in April last year, Min Aung Hlaing agreed to allow an envoy from the Southeast Asian bloc access to all stakeholders in Myanmar as part of a Five-Point Consensus to end the political crisis in his country. Observers say that the NLD must have a seat at the table if there is to be any hope for a resolution.

Failure to deliver

Cambodia’s foreign ministry attempted to present Prak Sokhonn’s visit as a success in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“The visit was undertaken amicably and productively with meaningful outcomes, which reflects Myanmar’s support for Cambodia’s efforts in moving forward the implementation of the [Five-Point Consensus] and serves to strengthen regional stability as well as the credibility, unity, and centrality of ASEAN and its community building process,” the statement said.

Prak Sokhonn acknowledged to reporters that the junta had failed to deliver on several other key promises it made at last year’s ASEAN gathering, including an end to violence, improved access for aid groups and multiparty talks.

But he also suggested that the nation’s various power brokers are “more committed to confrontation than negotiation.

“After listening to all parties, none are prepared to start a dialogue for a ceasefire,” he said. “I have urged Naypyidaw to be extremely patient and to refrain from using military forces when they are not necessary. I also asked [the junta] to deploy police when dealing with civilians instead of the military, which should only be used to accomplish military objectives.”

The envoy added that junta representatives would not be extended invitations to ASEAN meetings unless progress is made on the consensus.

Little progress made

Prak Sokhonn’s visit to Myanmar had accomplished little, according to Cambodian social analyst Van Bunna.

“They are far from what [the ASEAN envoy] had hoped to achieve,” he told RFA, noting that ASEAN operates on a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member states and that the Five-Point Consensus is non-binding.

“ASEAN hasn’t taken a strong stance on Myanmar because its members all have different views on the issue. A few countries are in favor of the junta government as some leaders don’t value democracy.”

Van Bunna said that Min Aung Hlaing would take advantage of the fractured approach by ASEAN “to delay resolving the situation,” while the international community’s focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will allow the junta to “buy more time to stay in power.”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, went further to say that Prak Sokhonn’s visit had “grant[ed] the junta a public relations windfall that undermines the limited regional pressure being placed on Myanmar.

“At every step of the way as ASEAN chair, the Cambodian government has played the game crooked, with a clear tilt to the side of the junta at the expense of imprisoned NLD politicians and civil society activists,” he said.

“Prak Sokhonn’s mission shows why the concept of ‘ASEAN centrality’ in the Myanmar crisis is failing based on a lack of real political commitment to compel hard choices from Myanmar's generals.”

This report was produced by Radio Free Asia.


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