The region's quagmire – Myanmar crisis

Nik Luqman Wan Zainoddin
28 Feb 2022 07:19am
Children play with toy guns next to a banner put up by activists in protest against the military coup in Yangon on April 11, 2021. (Source: AFP)
Children play with toy guns next to a banner put up by activists in protest against the military coup in Yangon on April 11, 2021. (Source: AFP)

While the world's attention is turned to Europe's most intense conflict in a generation and nervously following the latest development unfolding in Russia's Ukraine tension where war currently breaks out, Asean is also mired with its own quagmire.

Chief among these is indeed the Myanmar crisis, which is now entering its second year. The people are in immense suffering as violence escalates, with the prospect of nationwide civil war is now a hard reality after the military junta's brazen power grab in February last year.

Mass demonstration ensued in major cities, though after 12 months, it is now more in the form of minuscule groups. Partly, the protest persists in reminding that struggle continues to end the junta's political meddling. To date, 1,562 protesters have been killed, with 12,000 have been arrested, while credible reports emerged that the military tortures and executes dissidents.

At the regional level, Myanmar's internal conflict crisis has also overshadowed the recently concluded Asean foreign ministers' retreat last week.

Held in Phnom Penh, the informal gathering that took place saw the attendance of all nine Asean foreign ministers, with the only exception from Myanmar's junta top diplomat, Wunna Maung Lwin.

His absence was followed suit after earlier this month, and the military-appointed foreign minister was barred from attending the regional ministerial meeting due to lack of substantial progress and cooperation to implement the Asean’s Five-Point Consensus (5PC).

The 5PC is a peace plan which, among others, calls for an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue for a peaceful resolution, mediation by the region’s special envoy, to expedite humanitarian assistance and visit by special envoy’s delegation to meet all relevant stakeholders for a comprehensive consultation.

Despite it being agreed in April last year, which aimed to restore peace in Myanmar after military chief Min Aung Hlaing led the campaign against the elected civilian government, no concrete result was palpable.
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Myanmar’s junta, or it is now infamously known as the State Administration Council (SAC), appears no remorse as Myanmar has seen ongoing violence with many crackdowns.

During the regional retreat, Malaysia proposed the Asean special envoy to “also meet with the National Unity Government (NUG)”, reinforcing an exertion to push towards a more meaningful 5PC. As a barometer of Asean view, Singapore extended that negotiation should also include Aung San Suu Kyi, the deposed leader.

Essentially, the NUG entails exiled elected lawmakers who were ousted by the SAC in the coup last year.

Even during the press conference at the sidelines of the gathering, Prak Sokhonn, Cambodian foreign minister cum the special envoy, mentioned that “it is only a matter of time” that the NUG shall be consulted.

Indeed, suppose the visit to Naypyidaw slated to take place next month by the Asean special envoy bears significant progress, essentially in paving the peace plan in accordance with the spirit of 5PC. In that case, Myanmar’s status within Asean could potentially be changed in the next few months.

However, for starters, the declaration of NUG by the SAC as an illegal and terrorist organisation may present a daunting task to lay the groundwork to operationalise a peace plan.

It is now apparent that Cambodian Hun Sen’s inaugural visit to Myanmar holds little strings on the SAC, although the latter rolled out the red carpet welcoming the premiere in January.

This is a political landmine that Myanmar’s junta SAC must manage, failing which, would prolong the pressure within the Asean circuit and from key extra-regional partners.

It goes without saying that the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and by extension, the United States (US) are all watching from on high, and the more progress has been made in the 5PC, the better.

The EU, for one, has recently appointed its special envoy for Myanmar, Igor Driesmans, who is the current EU ambassador to Asean. All in all, there are three special envoys dispatched for Myanmar, with the inclusion of Noeleen Heyzer, the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General, thus signifying the gravity of the issue.

In this vein, given the political weight placed to resolve the crisis, more coordinated, multi-level approaches are expected to come to the fore.

It is within Asean’s best interest that Myanmar’s crisis could be resolved, partly in lessening the ongoing violence and turning into a negotiations table with a tangible solution in sight.

Nik Luqman Wan Zainoddin is an analyst and freelance writer focused on Southeast Asia. Previously he was attached at the IKMAS UKM-Nippon Foundation as a research fellow.
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