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Myanmar“s neighbours, some ASEAN members hold secretive talks on crisis – sources

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2023-04-26T07:31:43Z

Flags of participating countries fly outside the venue as Cambodia hosts the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia November 10, 2022. REUTERS/Cindy Liu

Government and think-tank representatives from Myanmar and its neighbours, including India and China, held talks in New Delhi on Tuesday as part of a secretive effort to de-escalate a bloody crisis in the army-run Southeast Asian nation, two sources said.

Myanmar was plunged into conflict and economic chaos in 2021 after its powerful military overthrew the elected civilian government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering an armed resistance that it has sought to violently crush.

The talks this week were the second in a “Track 1.5” dialogue that started in Thailand last month and came as frustration grows within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc at the military’s failure to implement a peace plan it agreed to in April 2021.

The sources, who asked not to be named and declined to identify the representatives because the process was confidential, said Myanmar, India, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos were present at Tuesday’s meeting, as was Indonesia, the current ASEAN chair.

One of the sources said participants were interested in bringing into the process Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), an organisation affiliated with the resistance and declared “terrorists” by the junta.

“They are wanting to talk to NUG at some point of time officially, because the NUG and the Myanmar army haven’t spoken officially at all,” said the source, who was briefed on the meeting. “These are the hopes that the participants have.”

India and Thailand’s foreign ministries, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and the NUG did not immediately respond to queries from Reuters, while a spokesperson Myanmar’s junta could not be reached. A spokesperson for Indonesia’s foreign ministry said he was not aware of the meeting.

The meeting was hosted by an Indian think-tank and included discussion on all sides reducing violence, creating space for dialogue and the delivery of humanitarian aid, the second source said, adding the next meeting would be in Laos.

“The neighbouring countries’ perspective needs to be taken into account,” said the source, “For them, the foremost priority is the de-escalation of the violence.”

The junta has been shunned by Western countries but has stepped up engagement with Russia and recently hosted visitors from Thailand, including its military chief and the foreign minister.

Retired diplomat Ban Ki-moon, who made multiple trips to Myanmar as United Nations chief, met the junta leader and its reformist former president on Monday and called for an immediate end to violence.

ASEAN’s peace plan known as the five-point consensus, is the only official diplomatic process in play for Myanmar and includes halting hostilities and starting dialogue between all parties.

ASEAN has barred the junta from attending until they implement the plan, which has infuriated the generals.

“This effort will not supplant ASEAN,” the second source said of the ongoing talks, “This will only complement.”