Thailand’s outgoing foreign minister travelled to Myanmar in secret, holding a meeting with internationally ostracised coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and visiting jailed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, just days before a regional summit focused on the turmoil in the country.
Don Pramudwinai confirmed the visit to reporters on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers’ meeting in Jakarta on Wednesday, but did not go into detail.
He described it as “an approach of the friends of Myanmar, who would like to see a peaceful settlement”.
Khit Thit, an independent Myanmar news outlet, reported on Monday that Don had flown into Naypyidaw on a special military plane and returned home the same day after a meeting with Myanmar’s military council including Min Aung Hlaing. It did not mention him seeing Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained by the generals as they seized power in February 2021 and has since been jailed following a series of closed-door trials condemned as a sham.
Thailand’s outgoing army-backed government has triggered controversy in recent months with its apparent overtures towards the military despite their failure to make progress on a jointly agreed ASEAN five-point plan to end the violence triggered by the coup.
Don is known to have travelled to Naypyidaw in April, and last month organised a meeting to “re-engage” with the generals who have been excluded from the group’s top summits due to their failure to implement the peace plan.
Thailand’s foreign ministry confirmed in a statement that the trip had taken place on Sunday and that Don met Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now 78, “for over an hour”.
Don told the ministers in Jakarta that she was physically and mentally healthy.
“She encouraged dialogue,” Don said.
The military has rejected all diplomatic requests to meet Aung San Suu Kyi over the past two years despite it being part of the five-point plan.
Aaron Connelly, an expert on Southeast Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, said Don’s trip undermined ASEAN’s efforts to resolve the crisis. Myanmar joined ASEAN under a previous military regime some 25 years ago.
“A diplomatic process centred on Myanmar’s neighbors, rather than ASEAN, will be more sympathetic to the junta,” Connelly wrote on Twitter. “Its neighbors expect the junta to ultimately prevail and want to accelerate its pacification of the countryside and international legitimization.”
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stressed the importance of ASEAN unity, and told her counterparts on Wednesday that “only a political solution [would] lead to a durable peace”. The group was thrashing out a joint position on Myanmar on Wednesday afternoon.
The United States, whose top diplomat Antony Blinken will also attend the summits in Jakarta, has already said it planned to use the meeting to encourage ASEAN to maintain a tough stance.
Daniel Kritenbrink, the top State Department official for East Asia, told reporters last week that Myanmar would be “one of the key issues” discussed in Jakarta.
Without criticising Thailand, Kritenbrink said the US expected the bloc to “continue to downgrade Myanmar’s representation in the ASEAN ministerial”.
“We also look forward to finding ways to increase pressure on the regime to compel the regime to end its violence and return to a path of democracy,” he said.
There was no reporting of Don’s trip in Myanmar’s official media.