Asean envoys hold talks in Myanmar with junta chief

Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi (second from left) and Erywan Yusof (third from left) and Myanmar's military ruler Min Aung Hlaing during a meeting in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on June 4, 2021. PHOTO: AFP PHOTO / MYANMAR NEWS AGENCY

YANGON (REUTERS, AFP) - Two envoys from Asean held talks in Myanmar on Friday (June 4) with military ruler Min Aung Hlaing, army-run TV reported, as part of a visit aimed at ending a bloody crisis in the country.

The junta leader met Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi and Erywan Yusof, the second minister for foreign affairs for Brunei, Asean's chair, Myawaddy TV reported.

State-run MRTV said the envoys also met two military-appointed ministers.

Myanmar has been in chaos and its economy paralysed since the February coup, with more than 800 people killed in a brutal military crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.

Asean has led the main international diplomatic effort to find a way out of the crisis in Myanmar, triggered by a Feb 1 military coup, but the bloc is not known for its diplomatic clout and observers have questioned how effectively it can influence events in the country.

While the European Union and the United States have ramped up sanctions on Myanmar's generals, the regional bloc has struggled to form a united front.

It was not immediately clear whether the envoys would also meet members of a shadow government formed by ousted lawmakers - mostly from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party - which has sought to bring anti-coup dissidents together.

"Asean diplomacy dead on arrival," Myanmar analyst David Mathieson told AFP.

"The West will likely sound support for this visit, sending clear signals to Naypyidaw their coup is succeeding."

The junta has classified members of the shadow government as "terrorists", meaning anyone speaking to them - including journalists - can be subjected to charges under counter-terrorism laws.

UN envoy still waiting

Min Aung Hlaing attended a meeting on the crisis with the leaders of the 10-country bloc in April - his first overseas trip since he seized power.

Following that meeting - which was closed to media - leaders issued a "five-point consensus" statement that called for the "immediate cessation of violence" and a visit to Myanmar by a regional special envoy.

But the general said in a later television interview that Myanmar was not ready to adopt the plan.

A special envoy has yet to be appointed and violence has continued across the country.

The UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, was present on the sidelines of the April summit, but has yet to receive permission to travel to Myanmar.

She said last week she had been told by the junta that now was "not the right time" for her to go to Myanmar.

The military has justified its power grab by citing alleged electoral fraud in the November poll, which the NLD won in a landslide.

Ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has only been seen in public once since the coup.

She has been hit with a string of criminal charges including flouting coronavirus restrictions during last year's election campaign and possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies.

She vowed last month that her party would "exist as long as the people exist."

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