Thailand invites Myanmar junta to meeting on border management in ASEAN countries

Thailand invited the Myanmar regime to send representatives to a two-day meeting on Southeast Asian border management, beginning at the end of February, a source familiar with the event told Myanmar Now.

The meeting, officially titled “Border Management Cooperation Dialogue for the ASEAN Region,” will be co-organised by Thailand’s foreign ministry and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Pattaya from February 28 to March 1, said the source on the condition of anonymity.

The goal of the upcoming in-person meeting is, the person said, to discuss the preparation and progress towards the implementation of the regional bloc’s “border management cooperation roadmap” adopted at the ASEAN ministerial meeting on transnational crime held in September 2021.

Despite the meeting not being ASEAN-led, Thailand emphasised in the invitation that the gathering aims to provide a platform for ASEAN member states to share information on transnational crime as it relates to border management, as well as to determine how the UNODC might play a supporting role in addressing these areas, according to the source.

The UNODC previously came under fire from anti-regime critics after the junta’s then chief of police Than Hlaing was invited to participate in an earlier conference of the agency’s governing body in April 2021, just two months after the military coup. 

Myanmar Now has learned that the mid-December invitation from Phrommes Bhaholpolbhayuhasena, deputy director-general at Thailand’s foreign ministry, was addressed to Chan Aye, the Myanmar regime’s permanent secretary of foreign affairs. It urged him to send focal representatives responsible for border management, immigration and human mobility, trade and foreign affairs to the meeting.

The Myanmar junta will send four delegates to the meeting in the popular Thai resort town, but further details about the representatives were not known at the time of reporting.  

ASEAN has been inviting only “non-political” representatives from Myanmar to attend regional summits after its failure to abide by a five-point consensus reached by the bloc in April 2021; the agreement called for an end to violence in the wake of the military takeover in February of that year. 

In November last year, Indonesian President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, current chair of ASEAN– endorsed a proposed ban on Myanmar’s participation in all ASEAN activities beyond major summits. The aim of the ban—which has not been adopted by the organisation’s other member states—is to hold the junta to account for flouting the bloc’s recommended measures to end violence in Myanmar. 

Since Myanmar’s 2021 coup, Thailand has maintained a policy of engagement with the Myanmar junta, deepening divisions in ASEAN. In January, Thai military chief Gen Chalermphon Srisawasdi met Min Aung Hlaing in the resort town of Ngapali in Rakhine State, and in December, Thailand hosted an informal “non-ASEAN” meeting that gave the junta’s foreign minister a rare opportunity to meet face-to-face with four of his regional counterparts.

Sharing Myanmar’s longest border, Thailand has faced criticism by human rights activists and civil society organisations for not taking a more active role in protecting Myanmar refugees fleeing military-imposed violence. 

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