Thailand urges a greater role for ASEAN in resolving the conflict in Myanmar

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Friday called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a more proactive role in trying to resolve the crisis in military-ruled Myanmar after weeks of fighting near its border that halted trade and led to a brief influx of refugees. .

Myanmar is locked in a civil war between the military on one side, and on the other, a loose coalition of entrenched ethnic minority armies and a resistance movement formed after the junta's bloody crackdown on the opposition following its 2021 coup.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) came up with a peace plan in 2021 that was approved by Myanmar's generals, but it has only been partially implemented, causing divisions in the bloc and frustrating its most prominent members.

“We would like to see a more active ASEAN,” said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Nikurindig Palangkura.

“We discussed the situation with Laos, in its capacity as chair of ASEAN and Myanmar,” he added.

Myanmar resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels took control of the main commercial town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the border with Thailand on April 11, in a blow to a well-equipped army that is struggling to govern and faces a test of its credibility on the battlefield.

The rebels have since withdrawn their forces after a counterattack by government soldiers, and the fighting has since subsided. Thailand said that on April 20, 3,000 people fled across the border, and all but 100 of them returned.

“The fighting between the opposition and (the army) has moved to Myawaddy… It is very close to Thailand and more efforts need to be made by ASEAN,” Nikurandij added.

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This week, Thailand proposed holding an ASEAN meeting on the issue that would include Indonesia, the former president of the council, which sought to include the junta's rivals, as well as Laos and Malaysia, which holds the presidency next year.

Under the 2021 Myanmar Peace Plan, the ASEAN Presidency appoints a special envoy charged with promoting the process. Laos, the organization's current president, has said little publicly about its envoy's activities.

The Myanmar army faces the biggest challenge since it first took control of Myanmar in 1962. It is involved in multiple low-intensity conflicts and has refused to deal with opponents, describing them as “terrorists.”

(Reporting by Chayut Situboonsarng and Panarat Thepjompanat; Editing by Martin Beattie)

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