Myanmar: Private Meeting
Tomorrow morning (5 February), the Security Council will convene for a private meeting on Myanmar. The newly appointed Special Envoy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Chair on Myanmar, Alounkeo Kittikhoun, and Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari are expected to brief.
The UK, the penholder on Myanmar, apparently requested tomorrow’s meeting to receive an update from Kittikhoun, a Laotian diplomat who was appointed by Laos—which assumed ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship for 2024 on 1 January—to serve as its special envoy on Myanmar on 9 January. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to be interested in hearing from Kittikhoun about the steps that Laos plans to take to facilitate the Five-Point Consensus adopted at the ASEAN Summit in April 2021 following the military takeover of Myanmar’s government on 1 February 2021. (The Five-Point Consensus called for an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among all parties, a special envoy of the ASEAN chair to facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, humanitarian assistance by ASEAN, and a visit to Myanmar by the ASEAN Special Envoy to meet all parties concerned.)
Kittikhoun is expected to describe his 10 January visit to Myanmar, where he met with Min Aung Hlaing—the leader of Myanmar’s military and chairman of the State Administration Council (SAC), the governing body established by Myanmar’s military during the February 2021 coup. Myanmar’s state media reported that they discussed “efforts of the government to ensure peace and stability”. Media reports indicate that Kittikhoun met with some leaders of the ethnic armed groups that had signed the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). It seems that Kittikhoun also met with other ethnic armed groups while in Bangkok, Thailand.
Members may also be interested in hearing about the ASEAN foreign ministers annual retreat, which took place on 29 January. Myanmar sent a representative to the retreat, the first time it has done so since ASEAN’s October 2021 decision to allow only non-political representation from Myanmar at ASEAN summits and foreign ministers meetings. The ASEAN chair’s press statement issued after the retreat reaffirmed that the Five-Point Consensus continued to be ASEAN’s main “reference to address the political objective in Myanmar”. The ASEAN foreign ministers also expressed appreciation for Kittikhoun’s efforts and their confidence in his resolve to find a “Myanmar-owned and led solution”.
Khiari is expected to provide an update on the political and humanitarian situation. He is likely to reiterate the main points from a 31 January statement by Secretary-General António Guterres, issued on the eve of the third anniversary of the military takeover, which condemned all forms of violence, as well as called for the protection of civilians and for a cessation of hostilities. Guterres also said that the military’s “campaign of violence” must end and that those responsible should be held to account.
Members are likely to be interested in Khiari’s analysis of recent political developments. On 31 January, the SAC extended the nationwide state of emergency for another six months for the fifth time. Myanmar state media reported that the National Defence and Security Council had decided that more time was needed to prepare for the elections and to bring the state to a “normal state of stability and peace”. On the preceding day, the SAC had announced an easing of election registration rules that would make it easier for smaller political parties to register. Members may express concern over the further delay of elections resulting from the latest extension of the state of emergency.
Members may also be interested in discussing the implications on the political landscape of “Operation 1027”, launched at the end of October 2023 by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a military alliance formed among ethnic armed groups. It led the Myanmar military to lose control of 17 towns in northern Shan State near the Myanmar-China border and to the surrender of thousands of soldiers. The success of this operation appears to have sparked operations by armed groups in other parts of the country and encouraged greater cooperation among the armed groups as well as with the National Unity Government (NUG). (The NUG is an alliance of politicians ousted during the February 2021 coup.) On 30 October 2023, the NUG issued a press statement, in which it said that it would join forces with the Three Brotherhood Alliance and actively engage in the operations.
On 12 January, China brokered a ceasefire between the Myanmar military and the Three Brotherhood Alliance in northern Shan State. China has a direct interest in combatting cybercrime activities in the region close to its border. It seems that the Three Brotherhood Alliance cited the need to eradicate the cybercrime operations as one of the reasons for launching its offensive. During tomorrow’s meeting, China may refer to its role in brokering this ceasefire. Some members may be interested in hearing whether the ceasefire has held over the last few weeks.
Several members are expected to express concern over the slow progress in appointing a new Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar. The post has remained vacant since the contract of the previous Special Envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, ended on 12 June 2023. Without a UN Special Envoy, it has apparently been difficult for the UN to regularly engage all stakeholders in Myanmar. Some members may strongly encourage the Secretary-General to appoint a new representative as soon as possible. While the UN Special Envoy’s mandate comes from the General Assembly, regular briefings by the Special Envoy have in the past been critical in keeping Council members informed of key developments in Myanmar.
Khairi is likely to express concern about the humanitarian situation in Myanmar. According to OCHA, 18.6 million people—one-third of the population—require humanitarian support, compared to one million before the military coup in 2021. He may highlight the acute underfunding of the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan, which was only 29 percent funded in 2023. It seems that OCHA is anticipating a deepening of the humanitarian crisis, particularly in light of the escalation of conflict at the end of 2023 and the continuing fighting this year. Members are likely to call for unhindered humanitarian access and express concern over the worsening humanitarian situation. In this context, they may want the ASEAN Special Envoy to provide more information about the possible humanitarian corridor that Thailand agreed it would establish and which the ASEAN foreign ministers endorsed at their meeting in January.
Some members may also raise the issue of the Rohingya refugees, who have been in camps in Bangladesh for over five years. The situation of the refugees has been receiving less international attention in recent years in the wake of other crises around the world that have taken centre stage.
Given what appears to be significant political developments and the increasingly dire humanitarian situation, some members may stress the need for the Council to focus more on this file. Resolution 2669 of 21 December 2022 asked the Secretary-General or his Special Envoy to report orally to the Council on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus. The initial draft of this resolution requested the Secretary-General to report on developments in Myanmar every 60 days, which would for the first time have established a regular reporting cycle on this issue, but this was not agreed to by Council members. In 2023, the Council discussed Myanmar four times, in different formats, but there were no meetings after August 2023, despite the significant developments and the deteriorating humanitarian situation at the end of the year.
Since adopting resolution 2669 in late 2022, members have not been able to agree on any product on Myanmar. One of the difficulties appears to be the obstacles that the UN is facing in obtaining verified data promptly in some parts of the country. This has on occasion led to some members opposing press statements because numbers have yet to be verified.
Some members apparently feel that it is time for the Council to consider another resolution on this issue. The calls made in resolution 2669 were for: the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained prisoners; the need to fully respect human rights and uphold the rule of law; respect for the democratic will of the people of Myanmar; swift and full implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus; addressing the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State; and the full protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities. There has been no progress in any of these areas. It seems that the US has for some months indicated that it would like to have a new resolution on Myanmar, possibly under Chapter VII, but it seems that some members are concerned that this would be non-starter, given China and Russia’s past positions on Myanmar and on sanctions. The Council’s EU members, given that there are strong EU sanctions on Myanmar, are likely to be in favour of stronger measures, while some of the other elected members may be less inclined to take action that could be perceived negatively by regional actors. The UK has apparently been discussing a draft with the US, but no definite timeline has been announced for circulating a draft.
Some members, such as China, have in the past objected to holding meetings on Myanmar, often arguing that it was best to leave it to the region to address this situation. It appears that there was no objection to holding tomorrow’s meeting, perhaps because the private meeting format has become an acceptable format for briefings from the ASEAN Special Envoy. Some members appear to feel that it is time for an open meeting, a format which has been rarely used to discuss Myanmar. China has in the past objected to holding public meetings on Myanmar and if members push for this, a procedural vote might be needed. While the Council’s current composition includes several members which have an active interest in seeing more focus on this issue, it is unclear if such a vote would have the requisite support of nine members. Tomorrow’s meeting will be an opportunity for members to convey their views on possible next steps for the Council on this file.