New ASEAN Envoy to Myanmar Says He Wants to Meet Junta Opponents

By AFP 18 February 2022

A regional special envoy to Myanmar on Thursday urged the country’s military junta to allow him to meet a shadow government it has branded a “terrorist” organization in order to break a deadlock between the military and opponents of the coup.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has led diplomatic efforts to end the chaos unleashed by last year’s putsch in Myanmar, which triggered mass protests and a deadly crackdown on dissent.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, ASEAN’s new special envoy to the country, told a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers he planned to visit in March and meet with top junta officials.

He added a request to be allowed to meet with members of the National Unity Government (NUG), which is dominated by lawmakers from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted National League for Democracy (NLD), and which is working to overthrow the junta.

“If Naypyitaw is not speaking with the NUG… let the special envoy be the bridge,” he said, referring to Myanmar’s capital.

The junta has declared the NUG to be “terrorists” and has jailed several high-ranking members of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

Most NUG members are in exile or in hiding and Prak Sokhonn gave no details on where or when any future meeting might take place, or whether he had discussed his plans with the junta.

The junta did not respond to a request for comment.

Myanmar’s top diplomat was barred from Thursday’s meeting in Phnom Penh over a lack of progress in defusing the violence, although Prak Sokhonn said junta representatives had been allowed to listen in on discussions.

The foreign minister’s appeal to Naypyitaw follows a Jan. 7-8 trip to Myanmar by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that was widely criticized as lending legitimacy to the regime, in part because he met only with the junta leadership and failed to meet with representatives of the NUG or NLD. Cambodia is the current holder of the ASEAN chair, which rotates annually between bloc members.

In public remarks on Wednesday, Hun Sen appeared pessimistic on his chances of persuading the junta to implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus on resolving the crisis in Myanmar, and seemed to have given up—less than two months into his chairmanship—on making any progress.

RFA quoted him as saying that there are “only 10 more months and 14 days left and my duty [as ASEAN chair] will be finished,” and suggesting that “the next chair of ASEAN take care of the issue.”

More than 1,500 people have been killed and over 12,000 arrested in a military crackdown since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.

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