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PHNOM PENH – ASEAN Special Envoy Prak Sokhonn has vowed to do everything he can to resolve the Myanmar conflict until the end of Cambodia’s turn as Chair of the bloc.
Critics have offered qualified praise for his efforts to find a negotiated solution to the crisis.
“As mandated, I will do everything at my disposal to facilitate a constructive dialogue, to promote trust and confidence, and to alleviate the suffering of Burmese people through humanitarian assistance and vaccines,” Sokhonn said.
He was speaking on July 21 at a webinar on an “Update of ASEAN’s Efforts in Myanmar” organised by the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies.
He spoke of the progress on Cambodia’s three priorities for the implementation of ASEAN’s five-point consensus on Myanmar.
One of these, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, had seen more visible progress than the other points, given that it was not a political issue by nature, he said.
Cambodia had also called on all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and to comply with the principle of non-violence.
By far, the most difficult issue to address was the third priority which is to enable a conducive environment for peaceful and inclusive dialogue, he said.
Cambodia’s approach and efforts have been praised by some but have been criticized as yielding too little progress.
However, Sokhonn said, “Our approach was driven by a certain pragmatism. There is no magic wand or special elixir or even shortcuts for quick solutions.
“For peace talks to happen, it takes time, patience, and concessions from all parties.”
Vann Bunna, research fellow at Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace and a Co-founder of Thinker Cambodia, said there had been little progress in the Myanmar crisis but Cambodia had done a better job than the previous ASEAN Chair.
“The situation in Myanmar remains a civil war, a serious one with armed conflicts as well as escalating killings and shooting,” he said.
“As for the political solution, there seems to be no sign of relief. But comparing Brunei to Cambodia, the former was not able to produce favorable results.
“Cambodia has appointed the Special Envoy who already made two official trips to Myanmar, delivered humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar, and opened the door for possible talks between some parties,” he said.
The five-point consensus would not end the conflict in Myanmar despite the ASEAN Chair’s efforts if there was no strong commitment or political will from the Myanmar military and participation of all parties concerned in negotiations.
The five-point consensus was not appropriate for the situation in Myanmar but he did not think there was any better option.
Cambodia was a small country with little leverage to apply harsh sanctions or to convince the military junta to make concessions. ASEAN had no authority in its charter to impose sanctions or punish the junta to back up its words.
“We must maintain this five-point consensus but we also need to change the way we work by putting a strategic outline in place, especially for the implementation of a ceasefire and cessation of violence and on how to ensure peaceful and inclusive dialogue,” Bunna added.
He suggested that the special envoy should be a permanent position and not based on the rotating ASEAN chairmanship.
Due to the lack of consensus among ASEAN foreign ministers, Cambodia could not invite the Myanmar foreign minister to attend the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meeting.
The foreign minister of Myanmar would not appoint any non-political figure to attend the meeting.