Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Special Envoy to Myanmar Prak Sokhonn kicked off his second trip to Myanmar Wednesday to mediate the country’s political crisis despite being denied access to key stakeholders, prompting observers to question the value of his visit.
On Tuesday, junta deputy minister of information, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, told the media that the envoy will be permitted to meet with regime chairman, Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, during his five-day visit, as well as other members of the military regime, ethnic armed groups and individuals from “some political parties.”
The junta has said that Prak Sokhonn will hold a meeting on Friday with the 10 ethnic armed groups that recently met for peace talks with Min Aung Hlaing — seven of which have signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government since 2015, and three that have not. The talks were boycotted by Myanmar’s major ethnic armies for a perceived lack of inclusivity.
On Wednesday, Karen Peace Council (KNLA-PC) spokesman, Col. Saw Kyaw Nyunt, whose group is among those will meet with Prak Sokhonn later this week, suggested that the envoy must meet with more than just those who have been approved by the junta if he hopes to resolve the country’s political stalemate.
“I’d urge him to meet, as a special envoy, with all those involved in the political crisis in Myanmar,” he said.
“We’ll also [push to] find out what ASEAN could do to bring about a political dialogue inclusive of all stakeholders. And then, as a next step, what ASEAN could do to bring about nationwide peace talks. We have all these in mind.”
Prior to the trip, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen — whose nation holds the rotating chair of ASEAN — and Prak Sokhonn had requested permission for the envoy to meet with the head of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi and the party’s president, Win Myint, but were refused by the junta. The pair are among several NLD officials who were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup and face multiple charges widely viewed as politically motivated.
During an emergency meeting on the situation in Myanmar in April 2021, Min Aung Hlaing had agreed to a so-called Five-Point Consensus to end violence in the country, which included meeting with all stakeholders to resolve the political crisis but has failed to keep that promise. Observers say that peace cannot be achieved without including the NLD leadership and other powerbrokers in the process – concerns that were echoed by Col. Saw Kyaw Nyunt in his interview with RFA.
Multiple attempts by RFA to contact Zaw Min Tun for comment on Prak Sokhonn’s visit went unanswered Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the junta spokesman said that “those facing trials” will not be allowed to meet with the ASEAN envoy, adding that the military regime is “working with certain groups” to end the conflict in Myanmar, which has claimed the lives of 2,039 civilians since the coup, according to Bangkok-based NGO Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
“The main point of the agreement is that we are discussing with practical organizations to reduce the tensions of the armed conflict,” Zaw Min Tun said at the time, referring to the 10 ethnic armed groups that met with Min Aung Hlaing for peace talks.
“Basic agreements have been reached in the negotiations. More discussions will be held later. We have paved the way [for Prak Sokhonn] to meet with the right people, except those who are still being prosecuted and those who are still facing legal action.”
The military has said it plans to allow the envoy meet with “some NLD members” during his visit but has not specified who they are.
When asked who will hold talks with Prak Sokhonn, NLD central working committee member Kyaw Htwe said he could not comment on the matter.
Kyaw Zaw, a spokesman for the office of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) president, Duwa Lashi La, told RFA he is “not optimistic” about the outcome of Prak Sokhonn’s trip if the envoy fails to meet with the country’s key stakeholders.
“It’s impossible for the ASEAN special representative’s efforts to be successful if he is only holding discussions with the junta and is refused a chance to meet with important stakeholders during his visit,” he said.
“I don’t expect there will be any benefit for the people of Myanmar.”
Kyaw Zaw reiterated calls for Prak Sokhonn to meet with “all those involved in the conflict” during his visit, “not just with those who are chosen by the military.”
Myanmar-based political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe also dismissed the likelihood of a solution to the country’s political crisis being reached if the opposition is denied a seat at the negotiating table.
“The kind of result that people want will not come if things go on like this. It’s a one-sided approach to find a political solution [only] through dialogue with pro-military groups and those who are close to the military,” he said.
“The desires and the perspectives of the people on the other side of the issue are being ignored. That’s why I don’t think the solution that people hope for will come out of the visit.”
According to a statement issued by Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, Prak Sokhonn will discuss the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and ways to facilitate a political dialogue after holding talks with all stakeholders.
The ASEAN special envoy visited Myanmar for the first time in March but was criticized for failing to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint, and for failing to make significant progress in his mission to Myanmar.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.