Thailand on Monday will host a meeting of neighboring countries to discuss the violent political deadlock in Myanmar, an initiative that has been criticized for potentially undermining regional peace efforts and for being carried out by a caretaker government.
A statement released Sunday by Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the purpose of its informal dialogue, being hosted by Thailand for the third time, is to discuss a range of topics to complement the efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to resolve the situation in Myanmar.
It said it will be attended by representatives from Laos, Cambodia, India, China, Brunei and Vietnam, as well as Myanmar — a highly contentious issue because ASEAN leaders had agreed to exclude the ruling generals from their meetings.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are among ASEAN members not attending the meeting. They're among those pushing hardest for more pressure on Myanmar’s military government to implement moves toward peace.
Myanmar’s crisis began after its military in February 2021 seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover prompted widespread public protests, whose violent suppression by security forces triggered an armed resistance that now spans much of the country.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose country chairs ASEAN this year, acknowledged to his fellow leaders at a summit last month that no progress had been made to end the civil strife, and renewed a call for an end to the violence.
ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member, two years ago agreed on a five-point plan that includes a call for an immediate stop to killings and other violence and the start of a national dialogue. However, the country’s military rulers, though initially accepting the plan, have made little effort to implement it.
ASEAN subsequently declared that Myanmar was not welcome to send senior members of its military government to regional meetings because of its failure to cooperate with the plan. However, at Thailand's invitation, its foreign minister is due to attend Monday's meeting.
A Malaysian government statement Sunday said its foreign minister, Zambry Abdul Kadir, would not be able to attend “due to prior commitments,” but went on to emphasize that ASEAN’s peace plan “remained ASEAN’s valid reference and mandate in addressing the Myanmar issue.”
It said it was "important that ASEAN demonstrates its unity in support of the ASEAN Chair and ASEAN processes which are in line with the mandate and decisions made by the ASEAN leaders.”
Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai in media interviews on Sunday defended the meeting, saying it aims to give Myanmar an opportunity to provide an update on its situation. Thailand did not organize it on behalf of ASEAN, and an open invitation was sent out to all nations that might be interested in hearing from Myanmar, Don said.
“Dialogue is a fundamental requirement of diplomacy in seeking out peaceful solutions. As a neighboring country that shares a 2,400-kilometer-long border with Myanmar, Thailand wants to see cessation of violence which will eventually lead to peace and stability inside Myanmar,” the Thai foreign ministry statement said.
The foreign ministry statement did not say where the meeting would be held, but the Bangkok Post newspaper cited Don as saying it would be held in the eastern seaboard resort city of Pattaya.
Myanmar groups opposed to military rule blasted the meeting plans.
A statement signed by representatives of more than 300 civil society organizations called it “a complete affront to the people of Myanmar who have sacrificed their lives to resist the Myanmar military’s attempt to seize power through years-long terror campaign against the whole nation.”
“We demand the caretaker Thai Government cancels this meeting immediately,” said the statement, also calling on other representatives to stay away.
Some Thai critics also questioned why the meeting was suddenly called, even as the current caretaker government would likely be replaced by August by opposition parties that won May elections.
Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of progressive Move Forward Party, which won the most seats in Parliament, has suggested that his government would take a tougher stance on Myanmar than the current administration of retired general Prayuth Chan-ocha. Prayuth, who has been in power since he led a coup to seize power from an elected civilian government in 2014, has been criticized for his friendly position towards Myanmar’s military leaders.