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Indonesia to Establish Special Office to Handle Myanmar Crisis

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Among the challenges facing Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and her team will be how to respond to the junta’s planned sham elections.

The Indonesian government will set up a special envoy’s office to coordinate the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s handling of the conflict in Myanmar, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced yesterday, foreshadowing a tougher line on the country’s military government.

As holder of the ASEAN chairmanship for 2023, she said that the office, she will head, will put more pressure on the military junta to implement the bloc’s much-maligned Five-Point Consensus (5PC) peace plan.

“An Office of Special Envoy will be formed and headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs,” Retno said in a statement, according to BenarNews. “[As] chair and in accordance with the mandate of the 5PC, Indonesia will make every effort to help Myanmar out of the political crisis,” she added. “Only through engagement with all stakeholders, can the 5PC mandate regarding facilitation for the creation of a national dialogue be carried out.”

Retno has also confirmed widely held assumptions that the Indonesian government will take a harder line on the military government, which has made nearly no efforts to implement the Five-Point Consensus since agreeing to it in April 2021. While the Consensus calls for an immediate cessation of violence and inclusive political dialogue involving “all parties,” the military administration has intensified its attempts to eradicate the opposition to its rule, while refusing to take part in negotiations with the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), which is coordinating the resistance to military rule.

Meanwhile, in the two years since the coup, ASEAN chairs Brunei (2021) and Cambodia (2022) have largely failed to induce the military administration to follow the path laid down by the Five-Point Consensus. This has been the source of growing consternation within some ASEAN member states and prompted calls for the bloc to set enforceable time-bound benchmarks for the implementation of the Consensus, or to abandon it altogether.

The most active in this regard has been former Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, the only ASEAN foreign minister who has publicly met with members of the NUG. While minister, he also called for ASEAN to abandon the 5PC and adopt more robust and enforceable measures if the junta continues to stonewall on the plan’s implementation.

While Saifuddin is no longer foreign minister – he lost his cabinet position after Malaysia’s general election in November – the new administration of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim appears to be maintaining his active line on Myanmar. When Anwar met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo earlier this week, the pair agreed to increase the pressure on the junta with an interest in implementing the terms of the Consensus.

The fact that the Indonesian foreign ministry is setting up a dedicated office to handle Myanmar affairs speaks to the seriousness with which it takes the country’s conflict. But Retno’s office will face some thorny challenges in 2023. Perhaps the most difficult will be how to respond to the elections planned this year by the military government. While there are widespread expectations that Indonesia will put more pressure on the junta, there are no doubt some ASEAN member states that will be tempted to accept the results of the polls, which are designed to launder military rule into a more internationally acceptable form of government and acquiesce to the military’s chosen “roadmap.”

Forging a regional consensus that refuses to accept the foreordained result of the election – one that will only pour fuel on the flames of Myanmar’s conflict – is perhaps the biggest challenge facing Retno and her team in 2023.