Brief: Foreign Minister Says Patience Needed, No Panacea in Myanmar

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Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn meeting with representatives in Myanmar during his recently concluded trip there. Sokhonn visited in his role as Asean’s special envoy to address the post-coup crisis. (Photo from the Facebook page of Sokhonn)

Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn on Thursday after returning from his visit to Myanmar as Asean’s envoy urged patience in peace-building and openness to the participation of all parties – even those the junta has labelled terrorists – in working toward elections there.

During his three-day visit, he visited a selection of representatives from the military junta, ethnic armed organizations and political parties. Sokhonn was not allowed to meet ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer or members of her National League for Democracy party, which the junta has labeled as “terrorists.”

Sokhonn said there was progress in humanitarian aid, particularly in distributing Covid-19 vaccines, and support for ending armed conflict. But working toward peaceful and inclusive dialogue was “by far the most difficult issue to tackle,” he said, pointing to Myanmar’s seven decades of conflict.

Many representatives he spoke to hoped Asean could help find a political solution to the long-term crisis, Sokhonn said, and though he was “heartened by the sincere request,” “that would be an over-expectation on the mandate of the Special Envoy.”

Asean was just a facilitator, and Myanmar’s conflicts “can only be settled through Myanmar-own[ed] and Myanmar-led process,” he said.

But his statement leaned toward elections. To that, Sokhonn urged the junta to consider including even groups it sees as terrorists if those groups want to give up fighting and join peace talks, and for opponents to consider an election, even as soon as 2023, despite doubts it would not be fair and credible.

“The question is: Is there any peaceful option apart from election? If election stands a chance as the only peaceful exit from the current political crisis, how do we make that election inclusively participative, free and fair?”

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