6 June 2024

Southeast Asian countries struggling for unity on how to achieve peace in Myanmar were expected on Thursday to release a statement on their deliberations at a conference this week, with little sign of progress on their conflict-ridden neighbour.

The 10-member Association for Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, has been trying to press its ruling generals to implement a five-point peace plan agreed with the junta shortly after a coup in early 2001.

But Myanmar’s military has paid little more than lip service to the ASEAN plan, which includes a halt to violence and negotiations between the military and its pro-democracy opponents, leading to new doubts about the bloc’s effectiveness.

ASEAN chair Indonesia on Wednesday urged the group’s foreign ministers, gathering in Jakarta for one of their regular conferences, to remain united in tackling Myanmar’s escalating violence, and the Indonesian foreign ministry said a joint communique would be issued that day.

But no statement had been released as of early Thursday. Reasons for the delay were not clear but an ASEAN official said a communique was being finalised and would be released soon.

ASEAN is also this week holding meetings with envoys from the United States, China, Russia and other major partners.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet Chinese diplomat Wang Yi later on Thursday, the latest in series of interactions between the rival powers.

Rifts apparent

Rifts within ASEAN over Myanmar were highlighted when Thailand invited Myanmar military officials to a meeting last month aimed at “re-engaging” with the junta, which has been barred from high-level ASEAN gatherings.

Most ASEAN members shunned the meeting, which Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai defended, saying his country was suffering in terms of its border, trade and refugee problems.

Don said on Wednesday said he had recently met Myanmar’s jailed former leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the first foreign official to be granted access to the Nobel laureate since her detention by the military more than two years ago.

While ASEAN is sticking with the peace consensus, analysts have called for the bloc to explore other avenues, including extending the term of a special envoy to Myanmar beyond one year.

Indonesia, as ASEAN chair this year, is working behind the scenes to bring all stakeholders in the conflict together for informal talks. But diplomats say it is struggling to bridge gaps between the warring factions.

By Reuters