UN Envoy Meets Thai PM, Asks for Help in Ending Myanmar Crisis

UN envoy Christine Schraner Burgener has been in Thailand since early April to monitor the situation in neighboring Myanmar and speak to ASEAN members on how best to end the post-coup violence.

UN Envoy Meets Thai PM, Asks for Help in Ending Myanmar Crisis

The U.N.’s special envoy on Myanmar met behind closed doors with Thailand’s leader Friday, trying to find solutions to the Burmese crisis, as ASEAN dithered on naming its emissary to the coup-ridden country, which has already blocked the proposed visit.

Christine Schraner Burgener, the United Nations envoy, told Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-c-cha in Bangkok that she hoped Thailand could work with Myanmar’s junta to restore peace in that country, where close to 800 people have been killed since the military overthrew an elected government in a February coup.

“I held very constructive talks today in [Bangkok] with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai on a peaceful solution in Myanmar in the interest of the people,” Schraner Burgener said via Twitter.

According to a Thai government spokesman, the U.N. envoy said she was meeting Prayuth as part of her ongoing negotiations on Myanmar with officials from countries in the region. Last month, Schraner Burgener held talks with leaders – including Burmese junta chief Min Aung Hlaing – on the sidelines of a special summit on Myanmar convened in Jakarta by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“She said she hoped that Thailand would seek cooperation from Myanmar’s armed forces to find a peaceful solution,” Anucha Burapachaisri, the government spokesman, said in a statement.

Prayuth told the U.N. envoy that Thailand supports attempts to ease the situation in Myanmar, the statement said.

Prayuth, a former army chief who engineered his own coup in 2014, is said to be close to the Myanmar military. Thailand and Myanmar are both members of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc.

U.N. envoy Schraner Burgener has been in Thailand since early April to monitor the situation in neighboring Myanmar and speak to ASEAN members on how best to end the post-coup violence.

Myanmar security forces have killed at least 788 people – mostly anti-coup protesters – since the Feb. 1 military takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based Myanmar human rights group.

ASEAN envoy ‘nowhere to be seen’

Meanwhile, there is no sign of an ASEAN envoy, three weeks after the bloc’s members agreed to appoint a special emissary to go to Myanmar to talk to all parties involved in the turmoil. At their meeting in the Indonesian capital on April 24, ASEAN leaders and top diplomats hammered out a so-called consensus on Myanmar.

In addition to naming an envoy and agreeing to allow that person to visit Myanmar, the ASEAN consensus called for an immediate end to violence, constructive dialogue among all parties and the provision of humanitarian assistance coordinated by the bloc.

But the consensus began to unravel almost immediately. The Myanmar junta did not stop the violence and has continued to turn its guns on protesters.

On April 26, the junta chief said he would act on the ASEAN agreement only after there was “stability” in the country.

The next day, the parallel civilian government said it would not participate in talks with the military unless the more than 3,000 political prisoners were freed. No one from the parallel government was invited to the ASEAN meeting on Myanmar.

Then on May 7, the Myanmar’s junta said it would not agree to a visit by the ASEAN envoy until it could establish stability in the country.

On Tuesday, Singapore’s top diplomat said the bloc needed to immediately implement the consensus reached in Jakarta.

“This will not be an easy process. The cooperation of the Tatmadaw [the Myanmar armed forces] will be needed,” Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said while answering questions in parliament, according to an official transcript.

The junta’s “contemptuous” response to the ASEAN agreement shows the limits of the consensus-based decision-making process that the bloc “prides itself on,” said Marzuki Darusman, former chair of a United Nations fact-finding mission on Myanmar.

“While ASEAN was giving Min Aung Hlaing the red-carpet treatment in Jakarta, people were still dying on the streets defending democracy,” he wrote in an op-ed piece in the Bangkok Post earlier this week.

An ASEAN envoy to Myanmar is “nowhere to be seen, nor is the purported dialogue involving the opposition,” Darusman said.

“If Myanmar is the ultimate test for ASEAN’s ability to solve crises, it is one it is currently failing.”

On Friday, the Bangkok Post echoed that criticism in an editorial.

The world is once again looking to ASEAN “to see how it will respond to this challenge,” the editorial said.

“So far, there has been no significant move by the bloc; rather, a collective silence which is a letdown. If anything, it might give Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing the false impression that the region condones his behavior.”

Still, ASEAN must forge ahead with naming an envoy and “put the ball in the court of the military leader,” Ong Keng Yong of the Nanyang Technological University Singapore, said during an online discussion held by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore on Friday.

An envoy’s visit to Myanmar “has to happen soon,” Bruneian Foreign Minister II Erywan Yusof said at the discussion, in pre-recorded remarks.

He did not say how long it would take to name an envoy. He did not say either that the ASEAN chair and secretary general would visit Myanmar in the coming days, as some regional news sites had reported.

Prayuth and the Burmese military

Separately, a report in Japan’s Nikkei Asia on Wednesday cited an unnamed high-level source as saying that Thailand has “maintained back channels, and [Prayuth and Min Aung Hlaing] can communicate without having to meet.”

The reference was to criticism of Prayuth having skipped the special ASEAN leaders’ meeting on Myanmar on April 24. Many analysts had said the Thai PM did not go to the meeting because he was close to Myanmar’s junta chief.

“The PM does not have to attend the ASEAN summit to engage with [Min Aung Hlaing],” the source told Nikkei Asia.

Prayuth chose Myanmar as the first foreign country to visit after he seized power in May 2014, and four years later, Thailand awarded Min Aung Hlaing a royal decoration.

Some analysts said this this week that if anyone could convince Myanmar’s junta to stop the violence, that would be Prayuth.

“Prayuth should use these links to make clear that the price of Tatmadaw intransigence is too high for Thailand and ASEAN. He should pressure Min Aung Hlaing to back down,” John Blaxland, professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies at Australia’s ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said on Twitter.

“Prayuth has agency. He just needs resolve.”

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Laos Records Second COVID-19 Death as Number of Infections Balloons

Cambodia and Vietnam also struggle with spreading outbreaks, but Phnom Penh boasts two million people vaccinated.

Laos Records Second COVID-19 Death as Number of Infections Balloons

Laos has recorded its second death and first Laotian victim from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while the number of infections in the country grew to nearly 1,500, according to health officials.

Rathsamee Vongkhamsao, deputy director of the Infectious Diseases Department under the Ministry of Health announced the latest death during a press briefing Thursday, adding that “of 1,200 samples collected, 16 more people were found to be infected with COVID-19,” one of whom is from the capital Vientiane, and the other 15 from Champassak province, which borders Thailand and Cambodia.

According to Rathsamee, the country’s second victim of COVID-19 was a 29-year-old Laotian man who “had a history of visiting entertainment venues” before the country went into a coronavirus lockdown and did not learn that he was sick until he went to a military hospital because of chest congestion on May 10. At that point, he said, the case was too advanced, and the young man died within two to three days.

A physician who observed the man at the hospital said that he had a history of diabetes, high blood pressure, and other illnesses he was unaware of before seeking treatment. Efforts by RFA’s Lao Service to reach the man’s family went unanswered on Friday.

BouaThep Phoumin, another deputy director of the Infectious Diseases Department under the Ministry of Health, called the man part of a “high-risk group of young people who are prone to infection with COVID-19.” He said that the victim had visited a popular nightclub on the same night that a young woman identified as COVID-19 Patient #59 was there.

An official from the Special COVID-19 Protection Unit in Vientiane municipality urged anyone who had been in close contact with the man or his family members to get tested for the disease.

The young man’s death comes days after Laos recorded its first victim of COVID-19—a 53-year-old Vietnamese woman living in Vientiane’s Xaysettha district who was admitted to the hospital with symptoms on April 30 and died on May 9.

While the coronavirus also made few inroads into landlocked Laos in 2020, the country of around 7.2 million has seen its economy battered by a series of lockdowns meant to stem the spread of the virus.

Vaccination drive in Cambodia

In neighboring Cambodia, which was also largely spared by the coronavirus last year, the situation has become increasingly dire in the aftermath of a February outbreak that led to the country’s first COVID-19 death the following month and has ballooned in recent weeks.

On Friday, Cambodia’s Ministry of Health reported five more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll from the disease to 147. The number of infections in the country of 16.5 million surpassed 21,100 after more than 400 new cases were identified, the ministry said.

The drastic rise in cases prompted Prime Minister Hun Sen last month to lock down several so-called “red zones” in the capital Phnom Penh, residents of which have been confined to their homes for weeks without work or the ability to go out to make purchases needed to feed their families.

Nonetheless, Cambodia announced that health workers had administered two million doses of the coronavirus vaccine as of Friday, reaching nearly 20 percent of the country’s goal of inoculating 10 million people by year-end.

Industrial parks and hospitals in Vietnam

In Vietnam, authorities announced 104 new cases of the coronavirus overnight, bringing the total number of infections to 787 since health workers began struggling to contain a fourth major outbreak that was first discovered on April 27.

At least 133 infections were detected at industrial parks during the latest outbreak, prompting concern amongst factory workers, but officials have noted that the spread of the coronavirus has occurred at an even faster rate at some local hospitals. The Ministry of Health said a total of 363 local transmission cases were reported at the Dong Anh facility of the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases and the Tan Trieu facility of the National Cancer Hospital in Hanoi alone.

Since January 2020, when the country registered its first case of COVID-19, Vietnam has identified 3,816 infections within its borders.

Reported by RFA’s Lao service, Khmer Service, and Vietnamese Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya, Samean Yun, and Chau Vu. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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