Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government officially opened a shadow embassy in Washington on Monday, with a U.S. State Department official at the event using a speech to reject the legitimacy of elections planned by the military junta later this year.
The so-called NUG has set up a government-in-exile after the military took power from a democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup.
The foreign minister of this shadow government, Zin Mar Aung, said at the opening that the passage of the Burma Act as part of last year’s defense spending bill enabled her shadow government to officially open the office.
“The NUG’s office was able to be opened after the U.S. government enacted the Burma Act, which includes promises to encourage and support Myanmar’s democracy,” Zin Mar Aung said, noting the office would play an important role in the NUG’s fight for democracy.
She said the “presence of U.S. government officials at the office opening … signaled the state of official engagement” between the United States and the NUG in the wake of the Burma Act.
Uzra Zeya, the U.S. undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, told the ceremony the United States was committed to the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
“The U.S. government continues to encourage and support Myanmar’s return to the path of inclusive democracy as contained in the Burma Act,” Zeya said. “The deputy foreign minister also said that it is important for the United States and the countries in the region not to accept the fake election that will be held by the military junta.”
The comments reflect those previously made by U.S. State Department counselor Derek Chollet, who had dismissed the legitimacy of any elections held by Myanmar’s junta under current circumstances.
“Any election that the regime might have … will have no chance of being free or fair, given that the regime has imprisoned or intimidated nearly all critical potential contenders, and indeed does not control nearly 50% of Burma’s territory,” Chollet told reporters Jan. 31.
Among other things, the Burma Act allows the U.S. State Department to engage directly with Myanmar’s opposition groups, including the NUG, and forces it to develop a coherent program of sanctions against the military junta.
New home base
Monday’s event was also attended by NUG Deputy Foreign Minister Moe Zaw Oo and Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, who has held onto the post to which he was appointed before the coup.
Moe Zaw Oo said the new office would prove an important home base.
“This office represents the ministry of foreign affairs of the National Unity Government,” Moe Zaw Oo said. “We have opened this office here as we want to build stronger diplomatic relations with the United States. We also have plans to build relations with the Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives that are all here.”
He said the office would “do anything and everything for the revolution,” including leading relations with international institutions based in the United States that might be able to help the shadow government.
“We are going to interact with them, too,” he said. “Similarly, we are going to engage with the people of Myanmar origin in the United States encouraging and supporting the Myanmar people and the revolution, for their support, financial contributions and donations.”
Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Alex Willemyns and Malcolm Foster.