Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, speaking in his capacity as special envoy to Myanmar of the 10-member ASEAN, described the executions of Myanmar dissidents as a “setback” to his mediation.

Prak Sokhonn said the nine ASEAN members aside from Myanmar had “agreed to see how things will evolve in the coming weeks and months.”
Prak Sokhonn said the nine ASEAN members aside from Myanmar had “agreed to see how things will evolve in the coming weeks and months.” (Reuters)

Efforts by Myanmar’s neighbours to help restore peace and normalcy to the strife-torn Southeast Asian nation have been hindered by the country’s recent executions of four political activists, Cambodia has said.

Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, speaking in his capacity as special envoy to Myanmar of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, warned on Saturday that further executions would force the regional grouping to reconsider how it engages with fellow member Myanmar.

Cambodia is the current chair of the regional grouping, and Myanmar is not welcome to send members of its ruling military government to ASEAN meetings because of its failure to cooperate with a plan agreed upon last year to work toward restoring peace.

ASEAN meeting’s final communique, issued on Friday, included a section criticising Myanmar for its lack of progress in ending violence there, but with weaker language than several countries had hoped for.

On Saturday, Prak Sokhonn  said the nine ASEAN members aside from Myanmar had “agreed to see how things will evolve in the coming weeks and months.”

He said “if more executions are conducted, then things will have to be reconsidered,” which suggested that ASEAN is prepared to downgrade its engagement with Myanmar’s military government.

Prak Sokhonn said progress has been made on providing humanitarian aid to Myanmar, but not on the other main points in ASEAN’s plan: stopping the violence and opening up a political dialogue among all the country’s contending parties.

“The only will I see now is to continue to fight,” he said. “Why? Because of the lack of trust and the execution of the activists, whether it is legal or illegal.”

“And without this trust, the fight will continue and the political process will never start because no one will come if they fear for their life,” he said.

Prak Sokhonn declined to say whether he had been in contact with the opposition group, but declared that he was free as special envoy to engage with anyone outside Myanmar.

ASEAN has been criticised by some of its own members as well as other countries for doing too little to pressure Myanmar to implement the five-point consensus.

READ MORE: UN Security Council condemns Myanmar executions in rare consensus

Myanmar hits out at ASEAN

Myanmar’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement on Friday, saying it objected to a reference in the ASEAN joint statement to a “lack of progress” in implementing the five-point consensus because “it neglects 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.”

The opposition forces in Myanmar operate as an underground alternative administration, the National Unity Government, and its affiliated armed wing, the People’s Defence Force.

Myanmar’s military government has branded the groups as “terrorists” and even declared contact with them to be illegal.

“If ASEAN member states and external partners genuinely wish to help Myanmar in restoring normalcy, they should not encourage engaging with the terrorist groups such as NUG and PDF and should avoid any actions that could encourage terrorism,” said Friday’s statement from Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry.

READ MORE: Who were the four activists put to death by Myanmar’s military rulers?

Source: AP