Progress Needed Before Engaging Myanmar Junta, Singapore PM Says

By The Irrawaddy 17 January 2022

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday expressed wariness over Cambodia’s bid to bring Myanmar back into the fold of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In a video call, he told Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that the Myanmar junta leader should be shunned until he can show progress on peace plans he agreed with the bloc.

The conversation between the two leaders came one week after Hun Sen’s meeting with Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing in the country’s capital Naypyitaw. The visit drew condemnation in Myanmar and abroad amid concerns it could be seen as regional recognition of the ruling junta, as Cambodia now holds the rotating chair of ASEAN, to which Myanmar belongs. Hun Sen became the first foreign head of government to meet the junta leader, who has killed more than 1,400 people for opposing his rule.

Min Aung Hlaing was excluded from the ASEAN summit last year after his failure to implement a peace plan known as the Five-Point Consensus, which calls for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and constructive dialogue among all parties concerned, among other steps. So far, the coup leader hasn’t honored any of them.

During Friday’s video call, Lee thanked Hun Sen for briefing him on the Cambodian leader’s recent visit to Myanmar. But he reminded Hun Sen that there had not been any significant progress by Myanmar on the implementation of the Five Point Consensus since its adoption in April last year.

According to Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he said that until there was significant progress in implementing the consensus, ASEAN should stick by its decision not to invite Min Aung Hlaing to the bloc’s meetings.

“Any discussion to revise the ASEAN Leaders’ decision had to be based on new facts,” the ministry cited Lee as saying.

The Singaporean prime minister told Hun Sen there was a need for the ASEAN chair to engage all parties concerned in Myanmar, not only the military but also the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD). During his visit, the Cambodian prime minister only met with junta leaders.

His meeting with Min Aung Hlaing has borne little fruit so far. For all the coup leader’s promises to implement a ceasefire with ethnic armed organizations in the country, the junta has remained on the offensive, launching a slew of airstrikes in ethnic armed group-controlled areas in Karen State in the country’s south, and in civilian resistance strongholds upcountry.

Lee Hsien Loong pointed out that the junta has so far only proposed a ceasefire with ethnic armed groups, whereas “the call for a cessation of violence in the Five-Point Consensus referred also, and indeed primarily, to violence against the Tatmadaw’s political opponents and civilians.” The Tatmadaw is Myanmar’s military.

Just days after Hun Sen’s visit, there were further attacks by the junta against its political opponents, and additional prison sentences were imposed on Myanmar’s detained civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Lee noted.

Lee said he was unsure what role ASEAN or the ASEAN chair’s special envoy on Myanmar could play in coordinating a ceasefire since “we did not even have access to all parties”, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“However, Singapore had no in-principle objections to such a mechanism if it could foster an end to violence,” it added.

He agreed that the proposals raised by Cambodia should be further discussed among ASEAN foreign ministers and senior officials.

“Prime Minister Lee hoped that Cambodia would consider his views and those of other ASEAN leaders,” said the ministry.

Last week, Cambodia got off to a rough start as the current holder of ASEAN’s rotating chair when it was forced to postpone “indefinitely” a regional foreign ministerial meeting it had planned to host. It was to be the first high-level summit held under its chairmanship this year.

The two-day Foreign Ministers’ Retreat (AMM Retreat) was scheduled to be held in Siem Reap from Jan. 18. However, a spokesperson for Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said last week the event was postponed due to “the difficulty for many ASEAN foreign ministers to travel to join the meeting,” according to state-run media outlet AKP.

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