PHNOM PENH, Cambodia ( Associated Press) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations called a meeting on Friday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, in a new effort to organize humanitarian aid for conflict-torn Myanmar.
The hybrid meeting, which was attended by some participants via video, was attended by high-level representatives from Myanmar and the other nine ASEAN member states, its external partners, specialized agencies of the United Nations and other international organizations. Cambodia is the current President of ASEAN.
The meeting is part of ASEAN’s effort in April last year to revive the five-point consensus on Myanmar. The effort comes in response to violence in Myanmar in February 2021 after the military used deadly force to seize power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and end protests against its takeover.
The consensus calls for an immediate cessation of violence, dialogue between the parties concerned, mediation by the ASEAN Special Envoy, provision of humanitarian assistance and a visit by the Special Envoy to Myanmar to meet all concerned.
Myanmar agreed to a consensus but made little effort to implement it. Its stonewalling prompted fellow ASEAN members to bar Myanmar’s leaders from attending key meetings of the regional grouping since last October.
At the same time, armed resistance to military rule has grown to such an extent that some UN experts say the country is now in a state of civil war. Myanmar’s military has launched massive operations, including air strikes, in several areas of the country, which have resulted in large numbers of displaced people.
In an effort to eliminate safe havens for armed adversaries, the government’s strategy has included burning entire villages and restricting access to essential supplies such as food.
As of April 25, around 924,800 people have been displaced in Myanmar, including 578,200 people who have fled their homes as a result of conflict and insecurity since the military takeover, according to an assessment by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs .
“Humanitarian access to conflict-affected and displaced people is heavily restricted and there are significant gaps in aid to these communities, despite continued efforts by humanitarian partners and local organizations,” it said.
Even though access has been eased to the needy, relief efforts face challenges in funding. Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the region, and its economy has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and political turmoil, making foreign aid imperative.
The UN’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan seeks to reach a record 6.2 million people and requires $826 million, the world body announced last month. To date, it is only 4% funded, it said.
Critics of Myanmar’s military government suggest that any attempt to implement the five-point consensus is a waste of time.
“ASEAN’s credibility depends on its ability to act in accordance with the reality of the situation in Myanmar,” lawmakers for the non-partisan group ASEAN human rights said in an open letter to ASEAN leaders last month. “The group cannot expect the military to comply with the terms of the five-point agreement or any international or humanitarian norms for that matter.”
The group of lawmakers said it was “essential that member states pursue measures to exert genuine pressure on the military to prevent brutalizing its population and turning the country into a failed state.”
Suggested measures include the suspension of Myanmar’s membership in ASEAN, regional travel bans for Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and members of his ruling Military Council, and targeted sanctions against them including their sources of economic aid. Western countries such as the United States and Britain have already implemented similar restrictions and restrictions.
“The Myanmar regime has spent the past year committing atrocities in complete disregard of its commitments to ASEAN,” said Human Rights Watch’s Acting Asia Director Ellen Pearson. “Asean countries headed for Myanmar – Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – should immediately change their course to focus on protecting the rights and freedoms of the people rather than helping them stay in power.”
Critics of Myanmar’s military believe that any success toward solving Myanmar’s crisis should ultimately involve the country’s self-styled National Unity Government, the main organization representing opposition forces. Groups set up by elected parliamentarians, who were denied their seats by the military takeover, consider themselves the legitimate government of the country and enjoy widespread public support. However, the country’s military leaders have officially designated it an illegal terrorist organization and have refused to associate with it.
The open letter from the group of lawmakers called on ASEAN to “meet the NUG immediately and publicly”, an appeal that received a positive response on Twitter from Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah. He said he had an informal video meeting with the Foreign Minister of NUG ahead of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Conference in February.
Saifuddin later said that Malaysia would propose that ASEAN join the NUG informally as no progress had been made in a year in implementing the five-point agreement.
“We are not proposing recognition to other governments for ASEAN, but this kind of informal engagement is conceivable, especially on how humanitarian aid can be given to the people of Myanmar, who are still in their own right,” he said. in the country,” he said.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry immediately rejected his proposal, calling it “irresponsible and reckless”.
Associated Press correspondent Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.