Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, chairman of Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council (SAC), promised Cambodian foreign minister and ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn that there is a strong possibility that he will have the opportunity to meet former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the future, the minister said.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sokhonn paid his second visit to Myanmar from June 29 to July 3, when he met the military leader to follow up on progress on the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus (5PC), which was adopted last year to seek a resolution to the ongoing crisis in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Sokhonn asked to meet with Suu Kyi, as in his view she is one of the most important political actors in Myanmar and her inclusion would advance inclusive dialogue.

Despite consistent requests, Sokhonn was unable to meet with her.

“There are some legal procedures that we must respect, but I received a promise from [Min Aung Hlaing] himself that I will likely meet with [Suu Kyi] in the future,” Sokhonn said.

The special envoy made the statement at a July 21 videoconference event “Special Discussion: An Update on ASEAN’s Efforts in Myanmar”. The event was hosted by the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

Sokhonn said one part of his mandate is that he must meet with all parties concerned to enable the start of political dialogue. Since his first visit to Myanmar, he has searched for ways and means to advance that goal.

He recalled that his first visit in March gave him a better understanding of the situation on the ground and a chance to address many operational challenges with regards to the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

He said his second mission enabled him to take appropriate steps to advance progress in three priority areas of the implementation of the 5PC, among them cessation of violence, delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in need, and the creation of a conducive environment for inclusive dialogue with political trust among all parties concerned.

In terms of humanitarian assistance, Sokhonn said more common ground was found to push forward its delivery.

“This is an area where I see possible progress, because humanitarian assistance work is by nature not a political issue and has little or no political implications,” he said.

On the cessation of violence, Sokhonn reiterated calls from Prime Minister Hun Sen to the SAC to exercise the utmost restraint and to avoid disproportionate responses. He also urged the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAO) and other parties to adhere to principles of non-violence.

Sokhonn said that based on discussions with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, other armed groups must take their share of responsibility for the violence. However, all of the parties he met with assured him that they were against violence in any form and called for an end to the killing of civilians.

On his latest visit, Sokhonn met with seven EAOs, and seven parties that won seats in the 2020 election.

“They called on me to seek a political solution,” he said.

Sokhonn admitted that this would be an overexpectation, as he is a mediator and not a direct participant.

“What we can do is help put the brakes on the violence and urge all stakeholders to not push the country into a full-blown civil war that may trigger region-wide instability,” he added.

He urged the SAC to explore ways to work with UN secretary-general special envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer to enhance synergy between ASEAN and the UN, as was agreed by the ASEAN foreign ministers last February.

Choi Shing Kwok, director and chief executive officer of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, said that as ASEAN chair, Cambodia has been in the hot seat, receiving both solicited and unsolicited advice as well as critique from many quarters as it plays a critical role in engaging with all stakeholders in Myanmar and tries to achieve consensus on an ASEAN response to the humanitarian crisis that “we all know is happening now in Myanmar”.