Southeast Asian foreign ministers have called for a “Myanmar-owned and -led solution” to the crisis in Myanmar that began when the military seized power in a coup there three years ago and left thousands dead.
The call from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) follows a meeting on Monday of foreign ministers from the 10-member group in Laos, which was attended by a Myanmar official for the first time. times in two years.
The ministers also supported efforts by Alounkeo Kittikhoun, Laos’ special envoy for the crisis, to “reach out to relevant parties.”
Myanmar was plunged into crisis when generals overthrew the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021 and seized power, in response brutal force mass demonstrations against his power and triggering an armed uprising.
Since then, more than 4,400 civilians have been killed and the military is detaining nearly 20,000 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.
ASEAN, which Myanmar joined in 1997, has led international diplomatic efforts regarding Myanmar but has made little progress since the unveiling of the so-called five-point consensus to end the crisis during a summit attended by putschist Min Aung Hlaing shortly after taking power.
The generals ignored the plan and were prohibited from attending ASEAN Summits and Ministerial Meetings.
Laos, a one-party communist state on Myanmar’s northeastern border, chairs ASEAN this year.
Kittikhoun visited Myanmar earlier this month where he met with Min Aung Hlaing and the two discussed the government’s “efforts to ensure peace and stability”, according to Myanmar’s state media. Neither ASEAN nor Laos have commented on the trip and it is unclear whether he met with anti-coup groups.
The conflict has deepened since an alliance of anti-coup forces and ethnic armed groups began major offensive late last year in northern Shan State and western Rakhine.
The alliance claims to have overrun dozens of military outposts and taken control of key cities.
More than 2.6 million people were forced to leave their homes more than three years of fighting.
The military government has shown no desire to open negotiations with its opponents and describes them as “terrorists”. He also accused ASEAN of interfering in his internal affairs.
Laos emphasizes engagement
The ASEAN statement did not specify whether the “Myanmar-owned and -led solution” would involve discussions with the Government of national unitythe administration established by elected politicians who were deposed in the coup as well as by democracy supporters following the takeover.
The military sent Marlar Than Htike, ASEAN permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the meeting in Laos, accepting for the first time ASEAN’s invitation to send an “apolitical” representative to the meetings.
Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith welcomed Myanmar’s participation.
“This time we are a little optimistic that this engagement will work, although we must admit that the problems in Myanmar will not be resolved overnight,” he said.
“We are convinced that the more we engage in dialogue with Myanmar, the more we understand… the real situation that is happening in Myanmar. »
The crisis has caused friction within ASEAN, with some members pushing for a a firmer line with the army and engagement with the NUG.
A spokesman for Indonesia, which chaired the group last year, insisted Monday’s participation was not a sign of a change in policy.
“It is true that a representative from Myanmar was present at the ASEAN FM meeting in Luang Prabang. The participation was not that of a minister or political representative. So this remains in line with the 2022 ASEAN Leaders Agreement,” Lalu Muhamad Iqbal told AFP news agency.
Lao Foreign Minister Kommasith told reporters that Thailand would provide more humanitarian aid to Myanmar.
“We believe that humanitarian assistance is the immediate priority when implementing the five-point consensus,” he said, referring to the April 2021 consensus.
The plan calls for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, dialogue between all parties concerned, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian assistance through ASEAN channels and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet with all parties concerned.
Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei and Laos have a combined population of almost 650 million and a total gross domestic product (GDP) of more than 3,000 billion dollars.
Laos is the poorest country in the group and one of the smallest.
It maintains close ties with China, with which it also shares a border.