11 July 2024

ASEAN chair Indonesia on Wednesday urged a political solution to the Myanmar crisis at regional talks where Thailand’s envoy announced he met the country’s deposed democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week.

Myanmar has been ravaged by deadly violence since a military coup ousted Suu Kyi’s government more than two years ago, unleashing a bloody crackdown on dissent.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has long been decried as a toothless talking shop, and it remains split over diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis as it tries to form a united position on the junta-run country.

“Only a political solution will lead to a durable peace,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told ASEAN counterparts in her opening remarks on the second day of talks in Jakarta.

The meeting was dealt a surprise when Thailand’s foreign minister disclosed he met with Myanmar’s ousted democracy leader Suu Kyi on his own on Sunday in the country’s capital Naypyidaw and said she was in “good health”.

In the meeting Suu Kyi — who has only been seen once since she was detained after the coup in early 2021 — “encouraged dialogue”, Don Pramudwinai told reporters on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting.

The Philippines’ foreign minister said Don briefed ASEAN ministers on his meeting with Suu Kyi, but he reiterated any independent effort to restart the peace process should be in line with a five-point ASEAN plan agreed two years ago with Myanmar’s junta.

“We feel any initiative should be consistent with the five-point consensus. He (Don) just reported on that,” Enrique Manalo told reporters.

Indonesia’s top diplomat repeated the bloc’s position that a resumption of dialogue between Myanmar’s warring parties and a negotiated political pact would be the only way to bring an end to more than two years of turmoil.

“We are still very much concerned to see the continuing and increasing violence in Myanmar. We strongly urge all stakeholders to denounce violence as this is paramount to build trust,” Marsudi said.

ASEAN efforts to kick-start the five-point plan that calls for an end to violence and renewed peace talks have been fruitless, as Myanmar’s junta ignores international criticism and refuses to engage with its opponents.

The bloc’s initiatives are limited by its charter principles of consensus and non-interference.

– ‘Complex and delicate’ –

Ministers were still hammering out a joint position on Myanmar on the second day of talks but a communique would be issued by the end of the meeting on Wednesday, a Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In an early draft of the joint communique seen by AFP, the Myanmar section was left blank.

ASEAN has tried to show a united front at its official high-level meetings from which Myanmar is barred, but Thailand last month hosted the junta’s foreign minister for controversial “informal talks” that further split the bloc.

On Wednesday, Marsudi appeared to criticise that meeting, which Indonesia did not attend.

“The implementation of the five-point consensus should remain the focus of ASEAN,” she said. “Any other efforts must support the implementation of (that plan).”

After a morning meeting, Marsudi said all ASEAN members “stressed the importance of unity” and backed the five-point plan.

In its seven months as chair, Jakarta had held more than 110 engagements concerning Myanmar, she added.

On Thursday an ASEAN-plus-three ministerial meeting with Japan, South Korea and China will take place ahead of the ASEAN Regional Forum and an 18-nation East Asia Summit foreign ministers’ meeting on Friday, which will also include Washington and Beijing.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in capital Jakarta Wednesday for an unannounced trilateral meeting with Marsudi and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi.

Wang is representing Beijing in place of Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was unable to attend for “health reasons”, the Chinese foreign ministry said Tuesday.