Brunei foreign minister to grapple with Myanmar crisis as Asean special envoy

Brunei's Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Erywan Yusof will be tasked with reducing violence and opening dialogue between Myanmar's military rulers and their opponents. PHOTO: ST FILE

BANGKOK - Asean has appointed Brunei's second foreign minister Erywan Yusof as its special envoy to Myanmar, as it tries to muster a response to the country's growing crisis.

The decision was announced in a joint communique released on Wednesday (Aug 4), two days after Asean's foreign ministers gathered alongside the top envoy appointed by Myanmar's military junta.

The statement said Mr Erywan will "start his work in Myanmar, including building trust and confidence with full access to all parties concerned and providing a clear timeline on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus before the Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting".

The appointment of a special envoy was a key clause in the consensus reached by Asean leaders who met in April amid increasing bloodshed in Myanmar following the Feb 1 military coup.

It had also called for the cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among all parties concerned, and for Asean to provide aid through the bloc's humanitarian assistance agency.

Mr Erywan is tasked with helping to facilitate political dialogue in Myanmar, a delicate process given that deposed Myanmar state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi remains under detention and faces charges widely considered trumped up to rule her out of politics.

Meanwhile, elected lawmakers and their allies, which have regrouped under the rival National Unity Government (NUG), have been branded as terrorists by the junta led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

The military chief, who has alleged that the election in Myanmar last year was fraudulent, has vowed to hold fresh polls. On Sunday, when he assumed the title of "prime minister", he also said the current state of emergency will end on August 2023.

The joint communique released on Wednesday, which also announced that Britain was granted "dialogue partner" status by the regional bloc, welcomed "Myanmar's commitment" to Asean's five-point consensus and "acceptance for the timely and complete implementation" of it.

Singapore foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan called the appointment of Mr Erywan a "critical first step".

"But much more needs to be done. I urge the Myanmar military authorities to cooperate fully with Dato Erywan, as Special Envoy, to arrange his visit to Myanmar expeditiously," Dr Balakrishnan wrote on Facebook. "He must be granted access to all stakeholders to facilitate meaningful dialogue and find a durable and peaceful political solution."

Much of the progress will hinge on General Min Aung Hlaing, who on Sunday publicly endorsed Thailand's former deputy foreign minister Virasakdi Futrakul as the special envoy.

Human rights groups have called for international humanitarian intervention in Myanmar.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said at least 946 people had been killed by the junta and over 5,000 were under detention. Armed resistance against the military was taking hold, swelling the population of displaced persons, according to the group.

Protesters holding up the three-finger salute signifying resistance during a demonstration against the junta in Yangon on July 29, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Meanwhile, the surge in Covid-19 infections has overwhelmed a health system decimated by the political crisis. While the country logged 4,713 new cases on Tuesday - and 312 more deaths - medical experts say the real figures are likely far higher.

A report released on Wednesday by human rights groups Progressive Voice and Forum-Asia warned that the role envisioned for Asean's humanitarian unit, the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management, is "deeply problematic" because its operations would have to be approved and supervised by the junta.

It risks creating conditions that allow the military to hoard aid, the report alleged. It could also be used as a cover for the junta to gather information about those resisting the coup and inflict violent reprisals. People may also refuse to accept aid out of distrust, it said.

Mr Kasit Piromya, board member of the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said: "The Envoy must act promptly, and show skillful diplomacy to ensure he does not become a pawn in the junta's game to pretend it is taking action, all while maintaining its grip on power and subjecting the people more and more to its oppressive rule."

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