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Singapore says 'premature' for ASEAN talks with Myanmar

AFP . Washington
17 Jun 2023 20:11:32 | Update: 17 Jun 2023 20:11:32
Singapore says 'premature' for ASEAN talks with Myanmar
Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaks during a meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2023 — AFP Photo

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Friday that conditions were not yet right for ASEAN to open high-level talks with Myanmar on the country's political situation.

"We believe it would be premature to re-engage with the junta at a summit level or even at a foreign minister level," Balakrishnan said when asked about a news report that Thailand had proposed talks.

Speaking in a joint press conference in Washington with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Balakrishnan said the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had recently reaffirmed their stance.

"We condemned the coup, and the ongoing violence against civilians, the instability in the country, the setback to national reconciliation, and the enormous impact on the economy," he said of the 2021 military takeover in Myanmar.

"Unfortunately, it's now more than two years. We haven't seen any signs of improvement."

Balakrishnan did not reject all engagement with the Myanmar junta.

"The key point is this. You do need everyone ultimately to sit down and negotiate," he said.

"I don't know how long it will take. The last time it took 25 years for some form of democratic transition to occur in Myanmar. I hope it won't take that long."

Blinken said the United States backs ASEAN efforts to resolve the crisis.

"It's very important that we continue, all of us, to sustain the appropriate pressure on the junta and look for ways of course to engage the opposition" in Myanmar, he said.

Thailand has proposed to host an informal ministerial meeting of some ASEAN members with Myanmar on Sunday and Monday.

"It is time for ASEAN to fully re-engage Myanmar at the leaders' level," according to a Thai government letter, seen by AFP.

"In consideration of several pressing factors, the time for dialogues is sooner rather than later."

A Myanmar junta spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal.

A Southeast Asian official familiar with the matter told AFP on condition of anonymity that Malaysia would not attend the proposed meeting.

But the Cambodian government said its foreign minister will attend the two-day informal discussions in Bangkok.

The meeting will focus on advancing ASEAN's five-point peace plan agreed with Myanmar two years ago, Cambodia's foreign ministry said.

ASEAN's last summit, held in May, ended without any significant progress on that peace plan, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo warning that the bloc risks becoming irrelevant.

More than 6,000 civilians have been killed in Myanmar since the February 2021 coup, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo said in a report published Tuesday.