By DAVID RISING Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Top Southeast Asian diplomats meeting in the Cambodian capital stepped up efforts Wednesday to stem the escalation of violence in Myanmar and address other pressing and often divisive regional issues.
Is he first meeting in person of Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has weakened economies and complicated diplomacy, and comes at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China, as well as global increases in food and energy prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“ASEAN has to face challenges of different types and levels, but never before, never like this year, have we faced so many dangers for the region and the world in general at the same time,” said the foreign minister of ASEAN. Cambodia, Prak Sokhon. delegates before meetings.
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Currently, Cambodia holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN, which also includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Brunei, in addition to Myanmar.
The military overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar in February 2021, and the country was asked not to send any political representatives to ASEAN meetings in response to the the violence that has occurred.
In protest at that decision, Myanmar’s military government said it would not send any delegates and is therefore not represented at the talks, complicating efforts to pressure the country to comply with the UN’s five-point peace plan. ASEAN, which has been largely ignoring.
“You are trying to solve the problem in Myanmar without talking to them,” admitted Cambodian spokesman for the meetings, Kung Phoak, a foreign ministry official who also serves as the group’s special envoy to Myanmar.
“We are trying to talk to them, trying to explain to them, trying to express our frustration. But at the same time we also want to hear from them, what they think, how they can do more, so that we can make sure that the implementation of the five-point consensus moves forward as quickly as possible.”
Suu Kyi’s expulsion sparked widespread peaceful protests that were violently repressed. They have turned into an armed resistance and the country has slipped into what some UN experts characterize as a civil war.
Among other things, the five-point consensus calls for dialogue between all parties concerned and an immediate end to the violence.
However, the military-led government has shown little interest in following through on the plan, announcing last week that it had resumed judicial executions. hanging four political prisoners.
That sparked a worldwide outcryincluding from ASEAN countries, and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah condemned the act as a “crime against humanity”.
New sanctions are being considered, and Saifuddin said before the meetings that the group should consider scrapping or revising its five-point consensus. He said ASEAN Special Envoy it also needs to meet with the Government of National Unity, a shadow civilian administration established outside of Myanmar, to help develop a new political framework.
However, in his opening remarks, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen seemed to suggest a slower approach, saying member states were “deeply disappointed and disturbed by the execution of such opposition activists”, but went on to say ” if more prisoners are executed we will be forced to rethink our role with respect to the ASEAN five-point consensus.”
In a draft of the final statement, obtained by The Associated Press and which could change at the end of the meetings, the ministers say they remain committed to “accelerating the implementation of the five-point consensus” and again “called for an immediate cessation of violence.” .
More than 2,100 people have been killed by the military government since it took power and nearly 15,000 have been arrested, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, a non-governmental organization that tracks murders and arrests.
The foreign ministers of China and Russia, which have supported Myanmar’s military rule, will attend the ASEAN meetings and the group could press them to help implement the plan, although China has firmly adhered to the principle of not intervention.
The Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, who has criticized ASEAN for not doing enough to stop the violence in Myanmar, will also be present.
The three major powers are expected to take part in an expanded meeting called the East Asia Summit on Friday. They will also attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, a platform for security talks of which North Korea is also a member.
That could be the first time that Blinken and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, have met in the wake of Visit of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwanwhich prompted an angry response and threats from China, and could coincide with Chinese military exercises around the island.
Combined efforts to help the region in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impacts on tourism and other industries is another issue ASEAN ministers set out to address, as well as ongoing territorial disputes in the China Sea. Southern.
In 2016, an arbitration tribunal established in The Hague under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims after the Philippine government complained in 2013 of the increasingly aggressive actions of China in disputed waters.
China did not participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling as a sham, and continues to challenge it.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have all had overlapping claims to the busy waterway, where an estimated $5 trillion in goods pass each year and is believed to be rich in underwater oil and gas deposits. .
In the draft final statement, the group says concerns remain “about land reclamation, activities and serious incidents in the area, which have eroded trust, heightened tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.
At the same time, they “welcomed the continued improvement of cooperation between ASEAN and China” and said they were “encouraged by the positive progress of substantive negotiations” towards an agreement on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines contributed to this report.
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