Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Divided ASEAN grapples for united Myanmar stance

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — ASEAN foreign ministers were still working for a united position on the Myanmar crisis Thursday, a day after the bloc’s ministerial meeting ended.

Myanmar has been ravaged by deadly violence since a military coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in February 2021, unleashing a bloody crackdown on dissent.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations chair Indonesia on Wednesday urged a political solution to the crisis at two-day foreign minister talks.

But more than two years after the coup, the divided 10-member bloc’s peace efforts remain fruitless, as the junta ignores international criticism and refuses to engage with its opponents.

By Thursday, ministers had still not reached agreement on a communique.

A Southeast Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a joint text was still being worked out and would come later that day.

They would not comment on why the final document was taking so long, but an early draft seen by AFP on Tuesday left a section on Myanmar blank as the group wrangled over its contents and wording.

Thailand has launched a separate track to ASEAN efforts, speaking directly with the junta and other actors in the conflict.

Last month Bangkok hosted the junta’s foreign minister for controversial “informal talks” that further split the bloc.

Then on Wednesday, on the second day of ASEAN talks, Thailand’s top diplomat announced he met last week with Suu Kyi — who has been detained since the coup, and jailed by a junta court for a total of 33 years.

Don Pramudwinai said he met the Nobel laureate on Sunday in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw and said she was in “good health” and “encouraged dialogue”.

Indonesia has said any other efforts must support ASEAN’s existing five-point peace plan to end the violence and renew talks.

The diplomat said ASEAN members would support Thailand’s initiative, “provided it served the purpose of complementing the chair’s role”.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Jakarta had engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with all sides of the conflict, and in its seven months as chair had held more than 110 engagements concerning Myanmar.

But analysts said Thailand was taking the lead on the crisis, undercutting ASEAN efforts and shifting the centre of negotiation to Bangkok.

A Thai foreign ministry official declined to comment on Indonesia’s work as ASEAN chair.


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