ASEAN Chair Says Executions May Prompt Rethink of Strategy on Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 3 August 2022

The chairman of ASEAN, a regional grouping of 10 Southeast Asian countries, said the bloc may have to “rethink” its approach to the Myanmar crisis if the junta continues to execute political prisoners.

Cambodia currently holds the rotating chair of ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made the comment in his opening remarks to the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh on Wednesday morning.

Myanmar has been in social and political turmoil with armed resistance groups battling the regime across the country since the military coup last year. The junta, which has killed more than 2,000 people since seizing power, executed four democracy activists in July under terrorism laws for their anti-regime activities despite global pleas to spare them, including from ASEAN.

Currently, the regime’s prisons hold 76 political prisoners who have been sentenced to death, and the junta has said that more hangings are in the pipeline.

Hun Sen said on Wednesday that following the execution of the four opposition activists the situation in Myanmar had changed dramatically, and could now be seen as even worse than the period prior to the bloc’s announcement of its peace plan for Myanmar, known as the Five-Point Consensus.

“If more prisoners are to be executed, we will be forced to rethink our role vis à vis ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus,” he said.

The grouping adopted the consensus in April last year, calling for an immediate end to violence, and for dialogue between the junta and its opponents.

So far, the junta has failed to honor the plan. Regime chief Min Aung Hlaing said on Monday that implementing the consensus last year was challenging, as the country had to “overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic while dealing with violent riots and terrorism.”

“This year, as the situation has improved on all fronts, we are implementing the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus to the extent we can within the ASEAN framework,” he said during a televised speech to the nation marking 18 months of military rule.

But after more than a year of no progress on the plan, ASEAN has been widely criticized as a toothless talking shop.

The regime’s foreign minister was absent from Wednesday’s opening ceremony in Phnom Penh. Maintaining its stance from previous meetings, the bloc declined to invite him, as a way of punishing the regime for its failure to implement the consensus.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday morning for meetings with junta leaders. Right after his arrival, Lavrov met with his regime counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin.

Russia and its ally China have been accused of arming Myanmar’s junta with weapons used to attack civilians since last year’s coup.