Vacant chair for Myanmar during the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, on May 9, 2023. (AFP)

Thailand to host Myanmar junta for talks on post-coup crisis


Thailand’s foreign ministry said it will host talks with Myanmar’s junta and neighbouring countries today, aiming to find a way out of the post-coup crisis.  

Myanmar has been in turmoil since a February 2021 putsch ousted civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with swathes of the country ravaged by fighting between the junta and its opponents.

Late Saturday, the junta’s information team confirmed that Myanmar foreign minister Than Swe “was invited to a meeting in Thailand and he would go”.

Diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed have so far proved fruitless. 

Thailand’s foreign ministry is hosting an “informal meeting” of neighbouring countries today as part of efforts to “resolve the situation in Myanmar peacefully,” according to a statement.

Last week, Thailand’s caretaker government proposed to host a two-day informal meeting of some ASEAN foreign ministers starting Sunday, but the meeting was delayed to today.

“In consideration of several pressing factors, the time for dialogues is sooner rather than later,” Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai wrote in an invitation letter, seen by AFP.

“High-level” representatives from Laos, India, China, Brunei and Vietnam are expected to attend, it added, without giving further details. 

Authorities in Myanmar and Cambodia have confirmed their foreign ministers will attend the talks.

AFP has contacted China’s foreign affairs ministry for comment.

The talks come as peace initiatives by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations languish in the doldrums, with the bloc hamstrung by its charter principles of consensus and non-interference in members’ affairs.

The 10-country bloc has barred Myanmar’s junta from top-level summits for failing to implement a peace plan agreed upon more than two years ago.

ASEAN’s last leaders’ summit, held in May, ended without any significant progress on the peace plan, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo warning that the bloc risks becoming irrelevant.

A Thai foreign ministry letter proposing the talks and seen by AFP said it was “time for ASEAN to fully re-engage Myanmar at the leaders’ level”.

The foreign ministers of Indonesia and Malaysia – among the junta’s harshest critics within the ASEAN – will not attend today’s meeting, according to officials.

On Friday, Singapore foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that conditions were not yet right for ASEAN to open high-level talks with Myanmar on the country’s political situation.

“We believe it would be premature to re-engage with the junta at a summit level or even at a foreign minister level,” Balakrishnan said when asked about a news report that Thailand had proposed talks.

Speaking in a joint press conference in Washington with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Balakrishnan said ASEAN leaders had recently reaffirmed their stance.

“We condemned the coup, and the ongoing violence against civilians, the instability in the country, the setback to national reconciliation, and the enormous impact on the economy,” he said of the 2021 military takeover in Myanmar.

“Unfortunately, it’s now more than two years. We haven’t seen any signs of improvement.”

The National Unity Government of Myanmar – dominated by lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s government who are working to overturn the coup – slammed Thailand’s invitation to the junta.

“Inviting the illegitimate junta to this discussion will not contribute to the resolution of Myanmar’s political crisis,” it said.

More than 3,600 civilians have been killed in the Myanmar military’s crackdown since the putsch, according to a local monitoring group, while the United Nations says more than one million people have been displaced by violence.

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