Indonesia, Asean peers reject Thai proposal for informal Myanmar talks

The proposed informal talks come as Myanmar's junta fails to make any progress in implementing Asean's Five-Point Consensus.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


Displaced people from Myanmar carry belongings as they make their way to the Moei river on the Thai-Myanmar border to return from Thailand's Mae Sot district in Tak province on April 11.(AFP/Royal Thai Army)

June 19, 2023

JAKARTA – Major ASEAN member states have, with the support of the incoming Thai government, shot down a last-ditch attempt by the country’s outgoing pro-military government to host a regional meeting in support of Myanmar’s ostracized junta, sources say.

The proposed informal talks, outlined in a June 14 letter from Thailand’s caretaker Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai to his ASEAN counterparts, come as Myanmar’s junta fails to make any progress in implementing ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus, to which the junta’s generals and the bloc agreed two years ago.

Since the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, the country has been in violent turmoil, and the junta’s unwillingness to implement the peace plan, which includes calls for an immediate end of hostilities, has resulted in it being barred from high-level ASEAN meetings.

As this year’s ASEAN chair, Indonesia has been speaking with all sides of the Myanmar conflict in the hope of making some progress on the peace plan.

Thailand’s proposal for two days of informal peace talks on Sunday and Monday have raised eyebrows among ASEAN member states and Thai politicians alike, particularly since Thailand’s current caretaker government is expected to leave office in August following last month’s election.

“[When it comes to matters] of this size, why not wait for the next government to make a decision,” Chaturon Chaisang, a senior politician and member of parliament-elect hailing from the Pheu Thai party, wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party, which won the most seats in the May election, has signaled that if it is able to form a government, it intends to follow a different policy on Myanmar from the current pro-military coalition that was soundly defeated at the polls.

Read also: Thailand seeking to re-engage Myanmar junta with ASEAN meeting

A source at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry told The Jakarta Post that Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had refused to entertain the outgoing Thai government’s meeting proposal.

Similarly, Singaporean Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday that it would be “premature to reengage with the junta” since there had not been any significant progress in implementing the peace plan, The Straits Times reported.

The Vietnamese government said its foreign minister would not attend “due to a prior engagement”, and Malaysia is also planning to skip the meeting, said two sources with knowledge of the matter, Reuters reported.

Analysts have also been sounding alarms since the Thai proposal was leaked to the press. Rizal Sukma, a senior researcher at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said Thailand’s proposal was “unethical” and that it only served to sow division within ASEAN.

“Other ASEAN countries should resist and oppose this plan. We should work for the benefit of Myanmar’s people, not for a few elites in a member country,” Rizal said on Friday. “The only way for ASEAN to deal with the Myanmar problem is by staying united, on the basis of the Five-Point Consensus.”

But the Cambodian government said its foreign minister will attend and the junta’s information team confirmed on late Saturday that Myanmar Foreign Minister Than Shwe “was invited to a meeting in Thailand and he would go”, AFP reported.

Read also: ASEAN leaders urge end of Myanmar violence

Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government, made up of loyalists to Aung Sang Suu Kyi, has condemned the Thai initiative, saying in a statement on Saturday that inviting the junta would “not contribute to the resolution of Myanmar’s political crisis”, Reuters reported.

A group of 81 Myanmar activist groups released an open letter on Sunday condemning the “secretive initiative”, saying it was in “blatant contradiction” to ASEAN’s policy of not inviting junta officials to high-level meetings, and demanded that the outgoing Thai government drop the proposal immediately.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter that the Thai foreign minister had shown “arrogance” by inviting his junta counterpart, whom other regional neighbors have shunned.

“No wonder ASEAN’s efforts have been stymied at every step to resolve the Myanmar crisis,” he wrote.

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