Thailand urges bigger ASEAN role in resolving Myanmar conflict

Soldiers from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) patrol , next to an area destroyed by Myanmar's airstrike in Myawaddy, the Thailand-Myanmar border town under the control of a coalition of rebel forces led by the Karen National Union

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand called on Friday for the regional bloc ASEAN to take a more proactive role in trying to resolve the crisis in military-ruled Myanmar, after weeks of fighting near its border that halted trade and led to a brief influx of refugees.

Myanmar is locked in a civil war between the military on one side and, on the other, a loose alliance of established ethnic minority armies and a resistance movement formed after the junta's bloody crackdown on dissent following its 2021 coup.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) came up with a peace plan in 2021 that Myanmar's generals agreed to, but it has only been partially implemented, causing fissures in the bloc and frustration from its most prominent members.

"We would like to see a more proactive ASEAN," Thai Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nikorndej Balankura said.

"We have discussed with Laos, as the chair of ASEAN and Myanmar about the situation."

Myanmar resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels seized the key trading town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the frontier with Thailand on April 11, a blow to a well-equipped military struggling to govern and facing a test of battlefield credibility.

The rebels have since withdrawn troops following a counteroffensive by government soldiers and fighting has since died down. On April 20, 3,000 people fled over the border and all but 100 have since returned, Thailand said.

"The fight between the opposition and the (military) has moved to Myawaddy ... it's very close to Thailand and more needs to be done from the ASEAN side," Nikorndej added.

Thailand this week proposed an ASEAN meeting on the issue that would include previous chair Indonesia, which had sought to engage the junta's rivals, plus Laos, and next year's chair, Malaysia.

Under the 2021 Myanmar peace plan, the ASEAN chair appoints a special envoy tasked with advancing the process. Current chair Laos has made little public mention of its envoy's activities.

Myanmar's military, facing its biggest challenge since first taking control of Myanmar in 1962, is caught up multiple low-intensity conflicts and has refused to engage with opponents, calling them "terrorists".

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)