ASEAN should push ahead with special envoys to Myanmar

AFP PHOTO/Indonesian Presidential Palace

ASEAN should move forward with its appointment of special envoys to help mediate a peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis in Myanmar without having to wait for consent from the Myanmar military junta, a former senior Thai diplomat said yesterday.

Sihasak Phuangketkeow, a former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, admitted that it’s obvious that the military regime in Naypyidaw is “buying time” by not responding to the five-point consensus adopted by the ASEAN leaders during their summit in Jakarta in late April.

The consensus calls among other things for an end to the violence in Myanmar and an appointment of special ASEAN envoys to help find a peaceful solution to the crisis in the country which was trigged by a military coup on February 1.

As ASEAN chair this year, Brunei has submitted a list of three persons nominated as ASEAN special envoys to visit Naypyidaw.  However, the Myanmar military junta has not reacted to the list after having said earlier that it would welcome ASEAN envoys only after the situation in the country stabilized.

Among the three proposed envoys is Thailand’s former deputy foreign minister Weerasak Footraku, who had also served as ambassador to Myanmar.

Sihasak, who is currently secretary general of the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council,  told Thai PBS World in an interview that the military regime in Naypyidaw is foot-dragging on the ASEAN five-point consensus probably because it is confident that it now is more in control of the situation in the country following months of street protests.

Sihasak, however, suggested that ASEAN go ahead with its appointment of a special envoy or envoys to visit Myanmar.

“ASEAN doesn’t need to wait for consent from the military government in Myanmar. Appointing an envoy or envoys in accordance with the five-point consensus is a prerogative of the ASEAN chair,” he said.

ASEAN initially suggested appointing an envoy for the task.  However, it subsequently proposed as many as three envoys instead.  Apart from Weerasak from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have also proposed their own candidates.

Sihasak warned that any further delay would only reflect what is seen as a lack of unity among the ASEAN member countries and undermine what is touted as “ASEAN centrality”.

“What is also at stake is the sufferings of the Myanmar people. The country is deep in an economic crisis with people facing food shortage everywhere,” he said.

Sihasak also pointed out that the Covid-19 situation in Myanmar is also worsening. “From what I have heard, its public health system is on the verge of collapsing,” he said and warned of its effect on Thailand which shares a common border with Myanmar, stretching over 2,000 kilometres.

Sihasak called on ASEAN to be more forceful with its stand on Myanmar based on its five-point consensus.  He pointed out that a priority is for ASEAN to initiate a humanitarian aid programme for Myanmar through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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