ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar has welcomed the idea of engaging informally with Myanmar’s Myanmar’s National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), a body of opposition stakeholders, and its parallel civilian government, as the junta has reneged on a promise to put the country back on a democratic path, Malaysia’s foreign minister said in an interview Wednesday.
Meetings with opposition stakeholders could be held via video conference calls and other means if the junta prohibits such meetings in-person, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told BenarNews after an informal gathering here with other top diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ahead of a leader-level summit here with the United States.
“I thought the ASEAN special envoy, in his concluding remarks – though I cannot speak on his behalf – … in some ways welcomed the idea of engaging the NUG and the NUCC and the other stakeholders,” Saifuddin said.
“Two other ministers spoke along the same lines, but not necessarily mentioning the NUG and the NUCC.”
He was referring to the National Unity Government, Myanmar’s parallel, civilian-led government. The NUCC is a more representative body, which includes members of the NUG, civil society groups, ethnic armed organizations, and civil disobedience groups.
Saifuddin’s proposals at Wednesday’s meeting in Washington included strengthening the role of the bloc’s envoy to Myanmar and ensuring that the United Nations special envoy to the country, Noeleen Heyzer, is invited to relevant ASEAN meetings.
Heyzer could not attend an ASEAN meeting last week to coordinate humanitarian aid to Myanmar because the Burmese junta does not recognize her.
“I mentioned that the U.N. secretary general’s special envoy needs to be invited to all of the relevant meetings, regardless what the junta is saying. You cannot allow the junta to dictate who is to be invited,” Saifuddin noted having told meeting with the ASEAN ministers.
“If it is an ASEAN meeting, then it is ASEAN that should decide who is to attend. And in this context we should invite Dr. Noeleen Heyzer.”
Two weeks ago, the Myanmar junta reacted furiously when Saifuddin said he planned to propose that the ASEAN envoy must engage informally with NUG. In its response, the junta branded the NUG “terrorist groups.”
Judging from that response, the Burmese generals won’t be happy to learn that Saifuddin said he was planning to have his first in-person meeting with the NUG’s foreign minister, Zin Mar Aung, in Washington on Saturday. He said he planned to solicit her opinion on how the people of Myanmar can move on.
‘We need to be more creative’
The foreign ministers of the ASEAN member-states are in Washington with their countries’ leaders to participate in the U.S.-ASEAN summit.
Saifuddin said the ministers had planned the informal meeting here to mainly discuss the crisis in post-coup Myanmar and the non-implementation of a five-point agreement that the junta agreed to with ASEAN to return the country to peace and democracy.
The junta’s reneging on the agreement notwithstanding, ASEAN members plan to stick with the five-point consensus, Saifuddin said.
“We are very much still on board with the five-point consensus, but I think many of us are quite frustrated …,” Saifuddin acknowledged.
“I think we need to be more creative and that is why, for example, we [need to] start naming the stakeholders …the NUG, the NUCC, all of them.”
The points of the consensus call for a constructive dialogue among all parties; the mediation of such talks by a special envoy of the ASEAN chair; and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation, headed by the special envoy, to meet with all parties.
BenarNews asked Saifuddin if he believed the NUG should attend the U.S.-ASEAN summit, because the junta is being kept out of ASEAN meetings and Washington is following the regional bloc’s lead on that. The NUG foreign minister was in Washington, as of Wednesday.
“Well, we have not come to that point. My suggestion to the ASEAN meeting this morning was to engage informally. We, as you know, many of us are democrats at heart and our countries are democracies,” the Malaysian minister said.
“But at the same time, we do not want to, you know, to do something that is probably beyond what we can handle. So I thought the best way forward for now is to engage with the NUG informally.”
Meanwhile, when a senior Biden administration official was asked Wednesday about who would represent ASEAN member-state Myanmar at the summit, he replied “we’ll have more to say on this tomorrow.”
“We have had diplomatic engagement with the government in exile. We are in discussions about the best way to represent what has transpired in Burma and how to represent that in the meeting,” the senior administration official told Radio Free Asia, the parent company of BenarNews, in a briefing to media.
“I think one of the discussions has been to have an empty chair to reflect our dissatisfaction with what’s taken place and our hope for a better path forward.”
BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.