Prak Sokhonn, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) special envoy for Myanmar, has lamented the “lack of trust” in Myanmar and warned the military junta that the further execution of political prisoners could force the Southeast Asian bloc to reassess its approach toward the country.
Describing the executions of four Myanmar dissidents last month as a “setback” to his efforts to mediate the country’s crisis, the Cambodian foreign minister said the nine other ASEAN members had “agreed to see how things will evolve in the coming weeks and months,” the Associated Press reported.
“If more executions are conducted, then things will have to be reconsidered,” he added. Coming just weeks after Sokhonn said that ASEAN was pushing the military administration too hard and defended his and Cambodia’s policy of pragmatic engagement with Naypyidaw, his comments suggest that the regional bloc has run out of patience with its perpetual problem member.
Prak Sokhonn made the comments at a news conference at the tail end of last week’s clutch of ASEAN-related meetings. A week prior to the meetings, the military junta shocked the Southeast Asian bloc when it executed four pro-democracy activists, despite a personal plea from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to commute the sentences.
An ASEAN Chairman’s statement from Cambodia later described the act as “highly reprehensible” and said it displayed the junta’s “gross lack of will” to implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus peace plan. The military government agreed to the Consensus in April 2021, two months after it seized power in a coup, but has done virtually nothing to implement it so far.
Prak Sokhonn’s comments repeated the muted warning contained in ASEAN’s joint communique, released on Friday, which stated that the junta’s implementation of the Five-Point Consensus be reviewed at the ASEAN Summit in November, in order “to guide the decision on the next steps.” It said this should be conducted “consistent with Article 20 of the ASEAN Charter,” which states that a member state’s “non-compliance” or its “serious breach” of the Charter can be referred to the ASEAN Summit for a response.
The statement was otherwise relatively moderate, due to the fact that Myanmar’s junta, despite being excluded from last week’s meetings, participated in the drafting of the statement and vetoed stronger condemnations. The final communique noted ASEAN’s nine foreign ministers had “expressed [their] concerns over the prolonged political crisis in the country,” including the execution of the four political activists last month. The statement added that ASEAN is “deeply disappointed by the limited progress in and lack of commitment of the Nay Pyi Taw authorities to the timely and complete implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.”
Prak Sokhonn said at Saturday’s news conference that of the three main goals of the Five-Point Consensus – stopping the violence, opening up a political dialogue among all the country’s contending parties, and providing humanitarian aid to those in need – only the last had seen any progress (and even that is arguable).
“The only will I see now is to continue to fight,” he said, adding that without a baseline degree of trust, “the fight will continue and the political process will never start because no one will come if they fear for their life.”
Nothing that the junta has done since last February’s coup suggests that it adopt a genuinely more cooperative approach with ASEAN, as opposed to temporary tactical adherence to some of its less demanding consensus points in order to purchase time to crush the anti-junta resistance.
Sure enough, as the Associated Press reported, the military junta’s foreign ministry issued a statement Friday objecting to the ASEAN joint communique’s reference to the “lack of progress” in implementing the Five-Point Consensus, saying that it neglected Myanmar’s “efforts on its implementation.”
It also said that the four men recently executed were not punished because they were political activists but because they were “found guilty of masterminding, inciting, supporting, arming, and committing terrorist activities which caused tremendous loss of innocent lives.”