Myanmar Crisis Resolution Dead End, What Can Indonesia Do?
Seven months after Indonesia became chairman of ASEAN, there has been no visible progress in resolving the Myanmar crisis. There is still time left for Indonesia to maximize its diplomatic machine.
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Two residents of See San Village in the Sagaing region, Myanmar, Thursday (13/7/223), died after the military junta attacked the village. As reported by Myanmar media, The Irrawaddy, the couple in their 20s left behind a son who was also injured in the attack. The condition of this child is unknown because of communication difficulties.
A few days ago, a middle-aged woman was killed after her house was attacked by the junta's forces. The victim's brother was also seriously injured.
The attacks occurred while foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were conducting a meeting in Jakarta. A few days before the event started, the People's Defense Force (PDF), the military wing of the National Unity Government (NUG) - the opposition junta's shadow government - allegedly attacked Ngwe Twin Village in the same province on Wednesday (5/7/2023) early morning. The attack killed 15 people and injured 7 residents, including 3 monks.
The death of the married couple adds to the list of civilian casualties resulting from armed violence following the military coup on February 1, 2021. According to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) of Burma, as of July 13, 2023, the number of civilians who died due to armed violence committed by the military has approached 4,000. Around 19,480 civilians are still detained in Myanmar's prisons, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, stated during his visit to Jakarta in June 2023 that over 58,000 houses, schools, and various healthcare facilities have been destroyed. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 1.5 million Myanmar citizens have been displaced from their homes, both domestically and in neighboring countries.
"I regularly receive reports of massacres, torture, sexual violence, civilians being used as human shields, and everything is getting worse," said Andrews while in Jakarta. He is concerned that the crisis will worsen.
The worsening situation not only affects civilians in Myanmar. Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh are also in a crisis. The World Food Programme (WFP) plans to cut food aid for refugees, from the previous amount of $10 US dollars to only $8 US dollars. This year, WFP has reduced the value of food aid for refugees due to insufficient financial support.
Not only is the problem of dwindling humanitarian aid, the presence of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has caused horizontal problems, both among themselves and with local residents. In early July 2023, six Rohingya people died due to armed violence against each other. These six people died hours after members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) fact-finding team arrived at the Cox's Bazar refugee camp to find facts related to the alleged genocide against refugees by the Government of Myanmar.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, in a special interview with Kompas, Saturday (15/7/2023), said their government is worried that if this condition continues, refugees could be trapped in extremism.
"Our concern is that if this problem continues indefinitely and these people have no hope, become frustrated, stateless, they will be drawn into extremism and become terrorists. This not only creates security problems for the Asian region but also for the wider world," said Momen.
When Indonesia takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN at the end of 2022, after being held by Cambodia and Brunei Darussalam, optimism regarding the resolution of the conflict in Myanmar is very high. The view of Indonesia's status as a traditional leader in Southeast Asia has made this hope quite high. Indonesia's diplomatic experience in handling various conflicts is considered as the basic capital to bear the responsibility.
Long before taking on the chairmanship of ASEAN, Indonesia and Thailand, two of the five founding countries of ASEAN, met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Myanmar junta U Wunna Maung Lwin at Don Mueang Airport, Thailand, February 2021. Together with Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno LP Marsudi conveyed Jakarta's position on the problems that are currently happening in Myanmar and hoped that the junta leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, would exercise restraint and not commit violence against civilians.
Hope has arisen as Jakarta initiated the Special ASEAN Summit, resulting in five points of consensus among ASEAN leaders in April 2021. The five points comprise cessation of violence, dialogue among all parties, the formation of an ASEAN special envoy, humanitarian assistance, and a visit from the special envoy to meet all parties in Myanmar.
However, the implementation of the five-point consensus is stalled. The junta remains unmoved. Min Aung Hlaing has decided not to grant ASEAN access to meet with Myanmar's civilian political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Requests for access to political prisoners were not granted, even though ASEAN's chairmanship has changed, from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, and currently, Indonesia.
The stubborn attitude of the junta leader who is reluctant to implement the five-point consensus agreed upon at the ASEAN leaders' meeting in Jakarta in April 2021 has frustrated several countries. President Joko Widodo has even mentioned reviewing the contents of the five-point consensus as it is considered stagnant.
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Ahead of the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on July 11-14 in Jakarta, Foreign Minister Retno revealed that the special envoy office under the ASEAN Chair has conducted 110 meetings or dialogues with various parties in Myanmar. Retno mentioned that she has spoken with the foreign ministers from both sides, namely Than Swe (from the State Administration Council or SAC military junta) and the foreign minister from the National Unity Government (NUG).
In addition, a special team has been formed to assist the special envoy and has also met with ethnic resistance groups and civil society groups.
The number of these meetings increased from 60 previously, as reported at the ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, mid-May 2023, then 75 times until mid-June 2023 and finally 110 times. "In my meetings, both with the Minister of Foreign Affairs NUG and Minister of Foreign Affairs SAC, I have conveyed the importance of inclusive dialogue as the only way forward. If the parties want a durable peace in Myanmar. All external parties must encourage inclusive dialogue in Myanmar," said Retno.
Retno also stated that she had a dialogue with several neighboring countries that directly border Myanmar. In the dialogue, she emphasized the importance of those countries' support for the implementation of the five-point consensus agreed upon by ASEAN leaders in Jakarta on April 24, 2021.
However, the numbers in what is called quiet diplomacy, according to some observers, mean nothing if there are no significant changes on the ground. Armed violence that still occurs by parties to the conflict is one of the indicators. In fact, the move by Foreign Minister Don and the Thai government to hold a meeting with Than Swe in Bangkok was considered to have underestimated the efforts being made by Indonesia.
Also read: ASEAN's Strong Rebuke for Thailand
Dinna Prapto Raharja, an international relations observer from Synergy Policies, assessed that there has been no concrete result that can be seen as the starting point for change in Myanmar. This is reflected in the junta's firm stance and the opposition groups.
Thailand's stance is also considered an indicator of the unsatisfactory results of ASEAN's efforts to resolve the situation in Myanmar. According to Dinna, Bangkok has taken further steps to meet with neighboring countries such as India and Bangladesh to discuss and find solutions to the issues in Myanmar.
"Have there been any communications with ASEAN member countries after the 110 meetings? And, is it clear what ASEAN's desires are or not?" he said.
The numbers in what is called silent diplomacy (quiet diplomacy), according to some observers, mean nothing if there are no significant changes on the ground.
I Gede Ngurah Wijaya, an officer who works at the Office of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair for Myanmar and the Special Staff of the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs for Regional Diplomacy, said that several things can be considered as progress in their efforts to encourage a national dialogue process in Myanmar in the future. He explained that they have brought armed ethnic groups who have signed a peace agreement with the junta and opposing groups to engage in dialogue in one forum. They even made a joint statement.
"This means that trust is beginning to emerge among them," said Ngurah.
Also read: The Issue of Myanmar Splitting ASEAN
Another indicator of progress, according to Ngurah, is that the AHA Center has obtained security guarantees to distribute humanitarian aid to remote areas. Previously, the aid distribution team could only distribute aid to around 1,500 Myanmar residents. Meanwhile, based on data, the number of residents in need of aid is estimated to be around 1.1 million people.
According to Ngurah, this is a significant indicator as previously the delivery of humanitarian aid was hindered by permission from the junta.
Ngurah added, the process he and his team are undertaking is to build mutual trust. With the many actors involved, he admits it is not easy. Nevertheless, he does not want to be pessimistic. "This is a marathon job," he said.
Ngurah also said that so far his party had not specifically planned to fly directly to Naypyidaw to speak directly with representatives of the junta. In the view of the Chair of ASEAN, a meeting in Myanmar can and can only be done if a concrete proposal is offered. "The visit is not just a visit, but there must be concrete results in the field. Don't come just for the photos," he said.
There is no plan from Jakarta to specifically fly directly to Naypyidaw to speak directly with the junta representatives.
When asked about the decision of the junta to postpone the holding of elections, which were originally scheduled for August 2023 and extend the military state of emergency, Ngurah stated that it cannot be interpreted as the junta's good intention to engage in dialogue with ASEAN. According to him, from the beginning, the junta has never discussed the issue of holding elections.
"They are preparing and verifying political parties. However, they have never expressed anything about the election. ASEAN's attitude is very clear, before the election takes place, there must be inclusive dialogue. It is not the election first and then dialogue," said Ngurah."
The long road
The concern going forward is related to the transfer of ASEAN chairmanship from Indonesia to Laos. Some parties are worried about a regression from the work that Indonesia has already undertaken during its chairmanship.
A senior diplomat acknowledges that many countries hope that the Myanmar issue can be resolved during Indonesia's chairmanship. However, given the complexity of the situation, he believes that this is unlikely to happen.
"Perhaps it will only be finished in two or three years. This will take a long time," said the diplomat who refused to be named. He added that many ASEAN countries are not willing to bear the burden of Myanmar's complex issues."
Dinna encouraged Indonesia, in the remaining time of the ASEAN chair, to make a clear road map and output for every step taken by the next ASEAN Chair in solving the Myanmar problem. "Indonesia must leave something clear, the time frame and results to be achieved from each step for the next delegation. Without a clear time frame and output to be achieved, the problem will expand," said Dinna.
In addition, ASEAN must also take a firm stance on the presence and support for special envoy work. Even further, according to Dinna, special envoys can work under the coordination of ASEAN foreign ministers. "Thus, the attitude and steps taken are in line with ASEAN, not with the country currently holding the chairmanship," said Dinna.
A senior diplomat also mentioned the mediation model run by Norway that eventually gave birth to the Oslo Agreement as a model being studied for conflict resolution in Myanmar. The model will become a platform, including opening opportunities for great powers to contribute to conflict resolution.
On Saturday (15/7/2023), Priyambudi Sulistiyanto, an international political observer at the School of History and International Relations at Flinders University, Australia, stated that Indonesia could take the initiative to offer several conflict resolution models in Myanmar, such as those experienced in Indonesia and several other ASEAN countries. The model referred to is the power-sharing model currently being implemented by Thailand or the power-sharing model of the New Order.
"However, actually, for the Orba version, it has been implemented by Myanmar. Even if it is implemented again, the military will surely lose because the people of Myanmar do not really like the military," said Priyambudi."
Another way that Indonesia can think of is to imitate the peace process in Cambodia that was initiated by Jakarta. "ASEAN and assisted by big-powers make (settlement efforts) like the Cambodian model," said Priyambudi. It's just that Indonesia and ASEAN, according to him, might rethink the centrality of this regional organization if they choose this step.
Regarding this matter, Ngurah does not want to take too far steps. He said that what needs to be continued to strive for is consistency in policy to ensure that the strategies that have been taken are sustainable. He mentioned that the sustainability of the strategy is the responsibility of the ASEAN leaders who will meet at the upcoming Summit in September.
"We have made benchmarks. Hopefully it can continue," said Ngurah. (LUK/DNE/RAZ)