ASEAN envoy meets generals in controversial Myanmar visit

It is not clear whether Prak Sokhonn will meet members of the Natonal Unity Government or detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi in visit described as ‘shameful’ by critics.

The ASEAN envoy in a western-style suit meets Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, wearing a traditional outfit, in the capital Naypyidaw
Myanmar's armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing (right) shakes hands with Cambodia's Prak Sokhonn, the ASEAN special envoy, who is on a controversial visit to the country [Myanmar Military Information Team via AFP]

A southeast Asian envoy has met Myanmar’s military rulers on a controversial first trip to the crisis-hit country.

Prak Sokhonn, special envoy for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), began his three-day visit on Monday by holding talks with armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power in a coup in February 2021.

The two men discussed “the situation of protests and violence stemming from political disagreement” and humanitarian cooperation, the junta’s information team said in a statement. ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi, who is from Brunei, was also at the meeting along with the military’s foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin.

The visit was reported extensively in the state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, where it dominated the front page, and on state-run MRTV.

Cambodia, which currently holds the ASEAN chair, declined to say who else the envoy, who is also Cambodia’s deputy prime minister, will meet.

ASEAN has been leading diplomatic efforts to end the chaos unleashed by last year’s power grab when the military removed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, triggering mass protests, national strikes and conflict in rural areas and with ethnic armed groups.

More than 1,600 people have been killed in the violence and at least 10,000 detained with some half a million people forced from their homes, according to Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.

Prak Sokhonn’s trip comes amid frustration in ASEAN over Min Aung Hlaing’s failure to honour the five-point ASEAN “consensus” to end hostilities and start a peace process that he agreed to last year at a summit in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Cambodia, whose strongman leader Hun Sen has been in power for more than 30 years, is hoping it can kick-start dialogue after ASEAN took the unprecedented decision to bar the generals from its summits.

MRTV said Min Aung Hlaing told the envoy the military was cooperating on the ASEAN agreement and trying to restore peace and order, but his country was “under attack” and beset by lawlessness.

The ASEAN envoy was in Myanmar as the United States declared the military’s brutal 2017 assault on the Rohingya minority as genocide and crimes against humanity. The crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee across the border into Bangladesh where they remain in refugee camps five years later.

The US said the military had been using the same tactics since the coup.

Andrews, meanwhile, told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday that “war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed every day with impunity by the military junta of Myanmar” and urged the international community to take concrete action to end the bloodshed.

Prak Sokhonn had previously requested to be allowed to meet members of the National Unity Government established by lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party after they were forced out of government, but the military, which has declared the group “terrorists”, rejected the request.

Last year, it refused to grant ASEAN’s then special envoy permission to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the coup, and faces a litany of charges.

On Monday, a group called the General Strike Coordination Body, in a statement on behalf of 36 civil society groups, complained that recommendations by ASEAN members had been ignored by an envoy who was advocating for Myanmar’s military government.

“The visit to Myanmar by the ASEAN envoy showed no respect on the voices and demands from the people of Myanmar,” it said, calling ASEAN “shameful”.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since the coup when he travelled to the country in January.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies