PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Efforts by Myanmar’s neighbors to help restore peace and normalcy to the conflict-torn Southeast Asian nation have been hampered by the recent executions of four political activists in the country, said on Saturday the Cambodian foreign minister.
Prak Sokhonn, speaking in his capacity as special envoy to Myanmar for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, warned that further executions would force the regional grouping to reconsider how it relates to member Myanmar.
Cambodia is the current chair of the regional grouping, and Myanmar is not welcome to send members of its ruling military government to ASEAN meetings due to its lack of cooperation with a plan agreed upon last year to work towards restoring the peace.
Myanmar’s military rulers initially accepted the plan, a five-point consensus, but have since made little effort to implement it. The country has fallen into a situation that some UN experts have characterized as a civil war.
Prak Sokhonn was speaking at a news conference after a week-long meeting in Cambodia of ASEAN foreign ministers. The meeting’s final communique, issued on Friday, included a section criticizing Myanmar for its lack of progress in ending the violence there, but with weaker language than several countries expected.
On Saturday, he described the executions of Myanmar dissidents as a “setback” in his mediation efforts, saying all nine ASEAN members, plus Myanmar, had “agreed to see how things play out in the coming weeks and months.”
He said that “if more executions are carried out, things will have to be reconsidered”, suggesting that ASEAN is prepared to downgrade its commitment to Myanmar’s military government. ASEAN has been criticized by some of its own members, as well as by other countries, for doing too little to pressure Myanmar to implement the five-point consensus.
In February last year, the Myanmar military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, then violently suppressed widespread protests against her actions. After security forces used deadly force against peaceful protesters, some opponents of the military government took up arms.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday saying it objected to a reference in the ASEAN joint statement to a “lack of progress” in implementing the five-point consensus because it “neglects Myanmar’s efforts in its implementation.” .
It also said that the four recently executed men were not punished because they were political activists but because they were “found guilty of planning, inciting, supporting, arming and committing terrorist activities that caused an enormous loss of innocent life.”
Prak Sokhonn said that progress has been made in providing humanitarian aid to Myanmar, but not in the other main points of the ASEAN plan: stopping the violence and opening a political dialogue between all warring parties in the country.
“The only thing I see now is to keep fighting,” he said. “Why? Because of the lack of trust and execution of the activists, whether legal or illegal.”
“And without this trust, the fight will continue and the political process will never start because no one will come if they fear for their life,” he said.
While the men’s executions were a matter of law for Myanmar to decide, he said, they were a setback to building trust between warring Myanmar forces.
He also explained that his mandate as ASEAN Special Envoy was to engage with all stakeholders, including the organized opposition to Myanmar’s military rulers.
Opposition forces in Myanmar operate as an underground alternative administration, the Government of National Unity, and its affiliated armed wing, the People’s Defense Force.
Myanmar’s military government has labeled the groups “terrorists” and even made contact with them illegal.
“If ASEAN member states and external partners really want to help Myanmar restore normality, they should not encourage involvement with terrorist groups like the NUG and PDF and should avoid any action that could encourage terrorism,” the statement said. Friday from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar.
Prak Sokhonn declined to say on Saturday whether he had been in contact with the opposition group, but said that as a special envoy he was free to interact with anyone outside of Myanmar.
Peck reported from Bangkok, Thailand
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