ASEAN special envoy holds talks with Myanmar junta chief as violence increases

Since the coup in 2021 that ousted an elected government, Myanmar has been trapped in a ceaseless cycle of violence, prompting the regional bloc to urge the junta to cease hostilities and implement the “five-point consensus.”

In a significant diplomatic development, Myanmar’s junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, engaged in discussions with Alounkeo Kittikhoun, the chair’s envoy on the Myanmar crisis from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as reported by state media on Thursday. The meeting took place against the backdrop of Laos assuming the chairmanship of the regional bloc, which has been actively involved in promoting peace efforts within the embattled nation.

Despite the persistent calls from ASEAN for a commitment to peace, frustration has grown over the military rulers’ reluctance to adhere to the consensus reached among all ASEAN members, including Myanmar, in 2021. Since the coup in 2021 that ousted an elected government, Myanmar has been trapped in a ceaseless cycle of violence, prompting the regional bloc to urge the junta to cease hostilities and implement the “five-point consensus.”

The junta’s refusal to engage in dialogue with opposition groups, such as the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and pro-democracy resistance movements, has been a major point of contention. The military labels these groups as “terrorists,” undermining efforts to achieve national reconciliation through diplomatic means.

Laos, currently chairing ASEAN, has maintained a discreet stance on the envoy’s trip, with no mention in state-run media or official statements. The foreign ministry of Laos has yet to respond to inquiries regarding the meeting, raising questions about the nation’s role in facilitating dialogue.

Violence has become serious in recent months, particularly in northern Myanmar, as ethnic minority armies intensify efforts to reclaim territories from the junta. This includes the capture of outposts and a major commercial town on the border with China. The military, simultaneously facing resistance from pro-democracy militias that emerged in response to the crackdown on nationwide protests, finds itself embroiled in a multifront battle.

While Myanmar’s generals have been excluded from high-level ASEAN meetings, the regional bloc has maintained communication through the office of the special envoy, a position that rotates among member states annually. The Global New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper, reported that the two leaders discussed the government’s efforts to ensure peace, stability, and national reconciliation.

Min Aung Hlaing asserted his administration’s commitment to implementing the ASEAN five-point consensus, adjusted by the roadmap of the State Administration Council. However, the military rulers unveiled their five-point roadmap immediately after seizing power, significantly diverging from the ASEAN plan by prioritizing pandemic recovery and establishing a poll body for organizing elections after the state of emergency.

In response to the meeting, Kyaw Zaw, a spokesperson for the NUG, emphasized the importance of engaging with all stakeholders, not just the junta. He highlighted the junta’s lack of willingness to adhere to the five-point consensus and stressed the need for direct engagement with the legitimate and lawful government, ethnic armed groups, and resistance forces.