ASEAN envoy’s Myanmar trip unsuccessful, leading NLD member says

A three-day trip to Myanmar by Cambodian foreign minister and ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn this week did not offer any breakthroughs in the country’s ongoing crisis, said a central executive committee (CEC) member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose elected government was ousted in last year’s military coup.

CEC member Aung Kyi Nyunt—who is also the chair of the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which represents deposed NLD lawmakers—dismissed the Monday-Wednesday visit as “not meaningful” nor “a success.”

The special envoy met with army chief Min Aung Hlaing, members of his coup council, and a delegation from the People’s Party, which is under the leadership of 88-generation activist Ko Ko Gyi, who controversially represented the party at a junta meeting last May.

In April 2021, ASEAN held an emergency summit concerning Myanmar in Jakarta, Indonesia, and made public a five-point consensus on how the bloc would address the escalating violence in the country.

Among these points was a requirement that the ASEAN special envoy meet with all relevant parties in Myanmar—an obligation that Prak Sokhonn did not fulfil, Aung Kyi Nyunt said.

“He only met with the people who the military council allowed him to meet with, instead of meeting with all parties. And then he went back [to Cambodia], so it wasn’t an effective or meaningful solution at all,” he told Myanmar Now.

Much of the NLD party leadership, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, have been detained by the junta for more than a year, and visiting international personnel have been denied meetings with them.

Military-run newspapers reported that the special envoy’s visit was to help Myanmar following voter fraud in the 2020 general election—a claim which has been refuted by domestic and international experts but which the army has cited as a basis for its attempted seizure of power more than 13 months ago.

The same newspapers stated that Min Aung Hlaing emphasised to the ASEAN delegation the threats posed by “terrorism” in Myanmar, a reference to the anti-coup armed resistance movement.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, some 1,700 civilians have been killed by the junta’s armed forces since the coup, a figure that the military has dismissed as exaggerated.

Another organisation documenting rights violations, Data for Myanmar, reported that more than 7,000 civilian homes have been destroyed by the Myanmar army during this time in Chin and Karenni states and in Mandalay, Magway and Sagaing regions.

Other points of consensus from last year’s ASEAN summit on Myanmar included agreements that violence must cease immediately and that the Southeast Asian bloc would provide humanitarian aid, on which the NLD’s Aung Kyi Nyunt argued that this week’s delegation also fell short.

“[The military] is systematically targeting and burning down entire villages,” Aung Kyi Nyunt said, noting that violence had escalated rather than halted and called for an end to the junta’s impunity.

“One can’t say they’re going to provide humanitarian aid while letting the military council do whatever they want. It’s just impossible. That is why the international community needs to provide meaningful help,” the NLD CEC member told Myanmar Now.

The People’s Party’s Ko Ko Gyi, who met with the ASEAN special envoy, described the trip in a positive light.

“This trip will be beneficial for humanitarian processes to an extent. This also opened up doors to be able to hold meetings to stop terrorist actions in a good political spirit in the future,” he told Myanmar Now.

“It is not finished yet. That’s why he didn’t meet with everyone,” Ko Ko Gyi said of Prak Sokhonn. “We urged them to meet with more parties in the future. I think we need to work together in order to be able to have more meaningful negotiations.”

Bo Hla Tint, the shadow National Unity Government’s ambassador to ASEAN, told Myanmar Now that a tougher approach would be necessary in dealing with the junta.

“Prioritising and going soft on the military council in order to ensure their cooperation won’t give any real solutions for the country. We’ve said that before and we are saying that now,” he said.

ASEAN secretary general Dato Lim Jock Hoi and Cambodia’s science and technology minister Kitti Setta Padita Cham Prasidh also accompanied Prak Sokhonn on the recent trip.

Upon his return to Cambodia, Reuters reported that Prak Sokhonn acknowledged criticism of his visit by anti-junta activists and described the situation in Myanmar as “very complicated” and said time would be necessary to find a solution to the crisis. The special envoy reportedly sought the release of prisoners of the coup regime including Australian economist Sean Turnell. Prak Sokhonn told Reuters that Min Aung Hlaing had told him he would consider a request to meet with Suu Kyi and other detainees on a future visit.