ASEAN envoy to Myanmar warns of further executions

Phnom Penh, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s foreign minister said Saturday that the country’s recent executions of four political activists hampered efforts by Myanmar’s neighbors to help restore peace and normalcy in the conflict-torn Southeast Asian nation.

Prak Sokhonn, speaking in his capacity as special envoy on Myanmar, a 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, warned that further executions would force the regional group to reconsider how it engages with fellow member Myanmar.

Cambodia, the current chair of the regional bloc, does not welcome Myanmar to send members of its ruling military junta to the ASEAN meeting because it failed to cooperate with a plan to restore peace agreed last year.

Myanmar’s military rulers initially agreed to the plan with a five-point consensus, but little has since been implemented. The country is caught in what some UN experts call a civil war.

Prak Sokhonn speaks at a press conference after a week-long meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Cambodia. The meeting’s final communiqué, released Friday, included a section criticizing Myanmar’s lack of progress in ending violence there, but in weaker language than several countries had hoped.

On Saturday, he described the execution of Myanmar dissidents as a “setback” for his mediation efforts, and said the nine ASEAN member states except Myanmar “agreed to see how things play out in the coming weeks and months” .

“If more executions are carried out, then things will have to be reconsidered,” he said, signaling ASEAN’s readiness to reduce engagement with Myanmar’s military junta. Some ASEAN members and others have criticized ASEAN for doing too little to pressure Myanmar to implement the five-point consensus.

Myanmar’s military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year and then violently crushed widespread protests against her actions. Some opponents of military rule took up arms after security forces used deadly force against peaceful demonstrators.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday that it objected to the “lack of progress” in implementing the five-point consensus mentioned in the ASEAN joint statement because “it ignored Myanmar’s efforts to implement the five-point consensus”.

It also said that the four people who were recently executed were not punished because they were political activists, but because they were “convicted of planning, inciting, supporting, arming and carrying out terrorist activities that resulted in a huge loss of innocent lives”. .

Prak Sokhonn said there had been progress on humanitarian aid to Myanmar, but not on other points of the ASEAN plan: stopping violence and developing political dialogue among all rival parties in the country.

“The only thing I can see right now is keep fighting,” he said. “Why? Because of the lack of trust and executions of activists, legal or illegal.”

“Without that trust, the struggle will continue and the political process will never begin because if they fear for their lives, no one will come,” he said.

While the executions of these men are a legal matter for Myanmar to decide, they are a setback in building trust among Myanmar’s warring forces, he said.

He also explained that his task as ASEAN envoy was to engage with all stakeholders, including organized opposition to Myanmar’s military rulers.

Myanmar’s opposition forces operate as an underground alternative government, the Government of National Unity and its affiliated armed forces, the People’s Defence Forces.

Myanmar’s military junta has called these groups “terrorists” and even declared contact with them illegal.

“If ASEAN member states and external partners truly want to help Myanmar return to normal, they should not encourage engagement with terrorist groups such as NUG and PDF, and should refrain from any actions that could contribute to terrorism,” Myanmar’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Prak Sokhonn on Saturday declined to say whether he had ever been in contact with opposition groups, but announced that he could approach anyone outside Myanmar as an envoy.


Parker reported from Bangkok, Thailand

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