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Cambodia hosts meeting on humanitarian assistance to Myanmar

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA (AP) – Officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, in a new effort to organise humanitarian assistance for strife-torn Myanmar, a goal that critics feel falls short of addressing the causes of the crisis in the military-run nation.

The meeting, which some participants joined by video, was attended by high-level representatives from Myanmar and the other nine member states of ASEAN, its external partners, United Nations (UN) specialised agencies and other international organisations. Cambodia is the current chair of ASEAN.

No details of any agreements at the meeting were released. Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who is also ASEAN’s special envoy on Myanmar, said at a news conference that progress had been made, and wrote on his Facebook page that the meeting produced promising outcomes and directions.

The meeting was part of an attempt to revive a five-point consensus on Myanmar reached by ASEAN in April last year. That consensus was reached in response to violence that swept Myanmar after the military in February 2021 seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and used lethal force to quash opposition to its takeover.

The consensus calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among concerned parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties. Prak Sokhonn said Friday’s meeting added momentum to implementing the five-point consensus. He said he would make a second trip to Myanmar in his capacity of special envoy in the next few weeks.

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Special Envoy of ASEAN Prak Sokhonn (C) with ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi and Chair of the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Working Group to Myanmar Ko Ko Hlaing. PHOTO: AP

Myanmar initially agreed to the consensus but then made scant effort to implement it. Its stonewalling led fellow ASEAN members to block Myanmar’s leaders since last October from attending major meetings of the regional grouping.

At the same time, armed resistance to military rule has increased to the extent that some UN experts said the country is now in a state of civil war. Myanmar’s military has launched large-scale operations, including air strikes in several areas of the country, generating large numbers of displaced people.

In an effort to eliminate havens for armed opponents, the government’s tactics have included burning down entire villages and restricting access to essential supplies such as food. About 924,800 people remain displaced across Myanmar as of April 25, including 578,200 people who have fled their homes as a result of conflict and insecurity since the military takeover, according to an assessment by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Humanitarian access to conflict-affected and displaced people remains heavily restricted and there are significant gaps in assistance to these communities despite continued efforts by humanitarian partners and local organisations,” it said.

Even if access to those in need is eased, relief efforts face funding challenges. Myanmar is one of the region’s poorest countries, and its economy has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the political upheaval, making foreign assistance an imperative.