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Radio Free Asia

ASEAN envoy to attempt meeting with shadow government in Myanmar

2022.02.17 -- Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon said Thursday that he will travel to Myanmar next month and attempt to meet with the country's shadow government in a bid to resolve the spiraling political crisis there.

Prak Sokhon plans to visit the country in his capacity as special envoy for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in "early March" but said that he could not guarantee that he will meet with the National Unity Government (NUG). He made the comments at the end of an ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat in Phnom Penh that was dominated by talk of the situation in Myanmar, where authorities have cracked down on anti-junta protests since the military seized power just over a year ago.

"I will meet with relevant parties but not all," Prak Sokhon said, referring to one of the conditions of an agreement known as the Five-Point Consensus that the junta made with ASEAN in April 2021.

"This is my first trip; we can't be greedy," he said. "We will do what we can."

The Five-Point Consensus requires that the junta allow the ASEAN special envoy to visit Myanmar and hold unimpeded talks with the country's political stakeholders, in addition to undertaking other steps to end violence. But the military regime has yet to implement any of the measures it signed on to last year.

Prak Sokhon said as much Thursday, confirming that the reason junta representatives had not been invited to the ASEAN retreat was because there had been no improvement in Myanmar's political situation. However, he vowed not to let the crisis "impede community development."

The ASEAN special envoy, who assumed the role at the start of the year when Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen was rotated into the bloc's chair, said he is scheduled to distribute aid to a hospital and hold meetings with foreign diplomats during his visit.

He told reporters that he had not reached out to NUG representatives yet because the junta has labeled the shadow government a "terrorist group." But he said he is trying to convince the military regime to allow him to meet with all relevant parties during his stay.

Malaysian pressure

Prak Sokhon's comments followed a statement from Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, who said that he had called during the ministers meeting for the special envoy to meet with the NUG representatives when he visits Myanmar.

"This solution must be one that respects the will and aspiration of the people of Myanmar," the statement said. "Malaysia reiterates its full support for the Five-Point Consensus."

Abdullah said he was moved to call for the meeting after watching a video prepared by NUG Foreign Minister Zin Mar Aung for the ASEAN gathering.

Zin Mar Aung's video detailed issues in Myanmar that she said the junta must immediately address to resolve the crisis, including an end to airstrikes and offensives in areas controlled by armed ethnic groups and prodemocracy People's Defense Force (PDF) militias, and support for an independent probe into reports of war crimes that include the military's targeting of civilians with campaigns of arson and killings.

Speaking to RFA's Myanmar Service, Zin Mar Aung said that Abdullah was right to call on Prak Sokhon to meet with the NUG because it is one of the conditions of the Five-Point Consensus.

"[The Prak Sokhon delegation has] to meet NUG officials anyway, if [the junta is to] implement the Five-Point Consensus," she said, adding that the shadow government is still considering who would represent it in talks with the special envoy.

In addition to requirements that Prak Sokhon meet with all stakeholders during a visit to Myanmar, the agreement also calls for an end to violence and dialogue between the junta and the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD).

'An important step'

Myanmar marked the first anniversary of its Feb. 1, 2021, coup with no progress on those issues, while in the past year security forces have arrested nearly 9,160 civilians and killed more than 1,550. Military conflict has engulfed large swathes of the country of 54 million, displacing more than 400,000 people.

The junta has been at odds with ASEAN amid its failure to deliver on its promises. After assuming his role as head of the bloc, Hun Sen embarked on a Jan. 7-8 trip to Myanmar — the first by a foreign leader since the military coup — that drew widespread criticism for conferring legitimacy on the regime. He did not meet with members of the opposition, including deposed NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The visit came barely two weeks after Hun Sen urged junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during a video conference to uphold the Five-Point Consensus.

However, on Wednesday, only a month and a half into the job, Hun Sen admitted that Myanmar's military regime had made no progress in resolving the situation in the country and said it is unlikely to do so during the remainder of his year as chair. Instead, he suggested that "the next chair of ASEAN take care of the issue" because of its difficulty.

Speaking to RFA on Thursday, political analyst Than Soe Naing said that Abdullah's pressure on Prak Sokhon to meet with the NUG indicates that there is still hope for the situation in Myanmar.

"We people of Myanmar should welcome this step," he said. "What is most important is that this call is that ASEAN is recognizing the NUG government. ASEAN is taking an important step in resolving Myanmar crisis."

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service and San San Tin and Khin Khin Ei for the Myanmar Service, with additional reporting by the RFA-affiliated Benar News service. Translated by Samean Yun and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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