ASEAN envoy meets Myanmar junta head

Myanmar's military leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, has met with ASEAN's special envoy amid ongoing military challenges.

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FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup on February 1, 2021, presides over an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The leader of Myanmar’s military junta held a meeting on Thursday with the recently designated special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This occurred amid ongoing military setbacks in the western and northeastern regions of the country.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who heads the military State Administration Council (SAC), convened with Alounkeo Kittikhoun within the opulent office in Naypyidaw. The discussions between the two leaders centered on the “government’s endeavours to ensure peace and stability of the State and national reconciliation,” according to Myanmar’s media. The media also added that Min Aung Hlaing mentioned the implementation of the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus, adjusted in alignment with the roadmap of the State Administration Council.

Additionally, Alounkeo engaged with the junta’s foreign minister, Than Swe, and representatives of seven junta-affiliated ethnic armed groups. Similar subjects were addressed during these discussions.

Alounkeo, an experienced Lao diplomat who has previously served as the country’s deputy foreign minister, assumed the role of ASEAN’s special envoy on Myanmar at the beginning of the current month. In this capacity, his responsibility is to advocate for the military administration’s adherence to the bloc’s Five-Point Consensus, which advocates for an immediate halt to hostilities and an inclusive dialogue involving all parties affected by the conflict stemming from the military’s coup in February 2021.

Nevertheless, since the establishment of the Consensus in April 2021, the State Administration Council (SAC) has made minimal efforts to implement its provisions. Instead, the SAC has prioritized the ambitious “roadmap” mentioned by Min Aung Hlaing, envisioning the stabilization of the country, followed by tightly controlled elections, and a return of power to a seemingly “civilian” government. In practice, many observers suspect that this plan is a strategy to consolidate military control under the guise of civilian governance.

Previously, Min Aung Hlaing conveyed to visiting ASEAN envoys that he would only implement ASEAN’s peace plan after completing his own roadmap. In this context, the recent commitment to “adjust” the Five-Point Consensus to align with the SAC’s plans doesn’t appear to represent a significant shift in position. It suggests that Min Aung Hlaing is signalling once again that victory on the battlefield or a negotiated peace on the military’s terms are the only acceptable outcomes.

This stance is noteworthy, especially considering the significant military setbacks the SAC has faced in northern Shan State since late October, when an alliance of ethnic resistance groups initiated a broad offensive known as Operation 1027. The operation presented the Myanmar armed forces with their most formidable battlefield challenge in at least three decades. Rebel forces have continued to make substantial gains in the two months since.

Min Aung Hlaing’s adherence to his own roadmap despite battlefield reversals raises questions about whether ASEAN mediation might become more appealing if the junta’s military fortunes continue to decline. Analysts are suggesting that, facing failures on the battlefield, financial turmoil, and a lack of popular support, Myanmar might be compelled to reevaluate the terms of the Five-Point Consensus.

 

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