ASEAN Envoy Dreams of Suu Kyi’s Nonviolence as Path to Peace in Myanmar
By Hpone Myat 22 July 2022
It is deeply disappointing to see that seven months into his tenure as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s Special Envoy for post-coup, conflict-ridden Myanmar, and after two visits, Prak Sokhonn still fails to grasp the reality of the situation in the country whose political crisis he is tasked with mediating.
His naivety was thrown into stark relief in an interview with Channel News Asia in which he said he hoped to use the influence of Myanmar’s detained popular leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to end the violence in the country, which has been devastated by the impacts of last year’s military coup.
Since the military takeover, the Southeast Asian country has slipped into a situation that some UN experts are already describing as a civil war. The regime is holding Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose influence the envoy wants to use, in solitary confinement in a prison, and has so far killed more than 2,000 people simply for rejecting military rule in their country. Backed by popular support, anti-regime armed resistance has mushroomed into a rebellion on a scale the country has not seen since its independence in 1948, and which has managed to inflict impressive casualties on the junta.
In the interview, Prak Sokhonn said he would ask Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for her views on how her political influence could be used to create a political process and political dialogue that could lead to peace and reconciliation.
“Another point would be to ask her how her principle of nonviolence could influence all the armed factions in order to stop violence,” he said.
The envoy has been to the country twice, and denied permission by the junta to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi both times, so it seems he is putting the cart before the horse. He said he would travel to the country for a third time in September and, if he is able to meet her, would seek to use her influence to end the violence.
Aware of the Nobel Laureate’s advocacy of non-violent tactics against the country’s previous military regimes, as well as her unwavering popular support and continued status as the leader of a democratically elected government—her ouster and detention by the junta notwithstanding—the envoy appears to have decided this is the best approach, believing that a majority of Myanmar will listen when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks.
Prak Sokhonn seems to assume that Daw Aung Suu Kyi would not approve of the ongoing bloody armed resistance against the regime because it is not in line with her peaceful principles, and he may believe he can persuade Myanmar’s popular leader to come out and say to the country’s nearly 100,000 resistance fighters, most of whom are in their 20s, “OK. That’s enough boys and girls. Drop your guns and go back home. It’s time to talk!”
If that is really what you think will happen, Prak Sokhonn, then you are daydreaming.
As shown by their effusive celebrations of her 76th birthday recently, many resistance fighters—most of whom who are young enough to be her grandchildren—still have the highest respect for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But that doesn’t mean that they would follow an instruction from her, in the current context, to lay down their arms. They are determined to get rid of the regime for the sake of their lives and their country, whatever the cost, while she is locked up by the junta. More importantly, their determination to topple the regime by any means is fully backed by the majority of Myanmar’s people across the country. As someone who has always respected the people’s wishes, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wouldn’t dare to defy the popular will. If she did, she would be signing her political death warrant.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the resistance movement has been raging for more than a year. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been aware of it since her days in house arrest last year. But she has kept tightlipped about the issue. Her silence has left regime leader Min Aung Hlaing jittery; he even said in December that she could keep up to date about the ongoing political situation, including the establishment of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and the violence that has wracked the country, from her legal team, adding, “She has a chance to comment on the unfolding issues via her lawyers.”
The NUG, which was formed by ousted elected lawmakers and their ethnic allies to challenge the regime’s legitimacy at home and abroad, appointed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as its State Counselor. , Given that the resistance fighters, known collectively as the People’s Defense Force (PDF), are under the NUG’s command, the ASEAN envoy may see the State Counselor’s position within the shadow government as a reason to believe that any order from her would be implemented.
Sadly for Prak Sokhonn, the NUG gave its blessing to the PDFs’ operations from the outset, urging the people to “revolt against the rule of the military terrorists led by Min Aung Hlaing in every corner of the country” last September. Nearly one year on, the resistance remains unwavering and the NUG said it won’t reverse course.
It’s evident that the ASEAN envoy is taking his cues from the junta. During his second trip to Myanmar earlier this month, he was told by the junta that they would engage in peace talks only when the resistance groups show they have no intention to “destroy the junta-run government” and “must not have any intention to replace the government.”
He told CNA, “I said [to the regime], well, at least the door is open. Conditions can be negotiated at a later stage,” adding that “what we have achieved so far is already encouraging.”
For Myanmar’s people, who have already endured more than one year of brutal military rule, the conditions set by the regime are anything but encouraging, and serve only ensure the maintenance of the military dictatorship. So, the conditions relayed by the envoy are merely sick jokes to the Myanmar people, who remain determined to rid the country of military rule, whatever it takes.
So far, all Prak Sokhonn has achieved is to relay the junta’s one-sided conditions to the world, while trying to persuade the resistance to give up. Given the junta’s ongoing atrocities, including extrajudicial killings and using airstrikes against civilians, as well as torching their properties, it appears the Cambodian deputy prime minister has made little progress in getting the regime to halt these tactics.
Perhaps he fears that putting pressure on the regime would threaten his country’s economic interests in Myanmar. Recently, Cambodia asked Myanmar to look into stepping up purchases of some of the Kingdom’s most important agricultural products. Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak made the request at a meeting with Myanmar Ambassador to Cambodia Thit Linn Ohn at the ministry last week.
The Phnom Penh Post reported that Pan Sorasak recommended Myanmar mull over the prospect of buying more Cambodian mangoes, dried bananas, avocados, cashew nuts, sweet potatoes, chillies, sesame seeds, palm sugar and longan and rambutan—all of which are locally available in Myanmar.
Cambodia’s approach to mediating peace—accepting everything the regime says while trying to make some extra cash selling it chillies and other goods already abundant in Myanmar—is nothing if not unique.
All in all, envoy Prak Sokhonn has proved to be a good listener to the regime while remaining deaf to popular sentiment and utterly failing to grasp the reality on the ground in Myanmar. The humanitarian assistance he has been trying to deliver remains a distant dream for tens of thousands of people displaced by the regime’s raids and its tactic of burning villages in anti-regime strongholds. His plan to use Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s influence to stop resistance fighting is an utter fantasy.
If the aim of his forthcoming trip is only to listen to what the junta says, he would be better off not wasting his time. It would be more beneficial to spend his time brainstorming creative ways to sell more dried bananas to the regime.