Asean foreign ministers meeting to discuss Myanmar 5-Point Consensus issue

Myanmar migrant workers demonstrate against the military coup during a protest to mark May Day in Bangkok, on May 1, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - An unofficial meeting involving all foreign ministers of Asean member countries will convene on Wednesday (May 11) to ensure the Five-Point Consensus (5PC) aimed at addressing the instability in Myanmar can be implemented properly, says Malaysia's Foreign Minister.

Myanmar has plunged into an upheaval since a military coup last year ousted the government of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now in military custody and faces a raft of charges that could jail her for more than 150 years.

The coup sparked widespread protests and unrest that the military has sought to crush by force.

Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah said that the unofficial meeting was called after tepid progress of the 5PC in 2021 as the Myanmar government's conduct was uncooperative.

He said, for example, Myanmar had yet to recognise the United Nations secretary-general's special envoy on Myanmar Dr Noeleen Heyzer, who was appointed in December 2021.

"We are concerned that this will turn out to be a hindrance to the implementation of the 5PC," he said in an interview here on Saturday (May 7).

The 5PC was adopted by Asean leaders, including the Myanmar junta leader, in an attempt to bring an end to the violence and instability in the country.

Mr Saifuddin also said that Dr Hayzer was not invited to the Consultative Meeting on Asean Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar on May 6 in Phnom Penh, attended by the Asean secretary-general and representatives of all Asean countries.

"Dr Noeleen, as the UN secretary-general's special envoy, was not invited to the meeting because she wasn't recognised by the military junta government.

"This is one example where Myanmar was not cooperating with the implementation of 5PC, which has been (mooted) a year now with no positive progress.

"So on May 11, before the Asean-US Special Summit at Washington DC, there will be an unofficial meeting involving all Asean foreign ministers.

"We will put forward several views on how we can ensure the 5PC is implemented properly."

As one of the 5PC's focuses is to stop all clashes in Myanmar, Mr Saifuddin noted that records have shown otherwise, with increased incidents of armed clashes and attacks on civilians.

He said 10,786 incidents were reported between Feb 1, 2021 and April 15, 2022, with 2,146 people killed and 13,282 people arrested.

A man uses a slingshot during a security force crack down on anti-coup protesters in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 14, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

"Among those who were killed and arrested included elected MPs in the last general election, journalists, humanitarian workers, civil society members and university students.

"What happened in Myanmar is worse and more in numbers if compared with Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time," he said.

Syria recorded 9,919 incidents of arm clashes and attacks on civilians, Yemen (8,246), Afghanistan (7,294) and Iraq (4,606).

Mr Saifuddin noted that he would reiterate his call for the special envoy of the Asean chair Cambodia to unofficially engage the National Unity Government (NUG) and National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC).

"It's okay for us to show impartiality but we should engage them because according to the 5PC, we need to engage all stakeholders," he said, adding that showing moral support by engaging did not mean Malaysia is taking sides.

"We have no business in choosing sides. We have to take into consideration that the NUG is a government that was formed through an election and the NUCC is the grouping of all kinds of organisations, parliamentarians, civil society organisations, ethnic groups and regional groups.

When asked if such calls for engagements would further isolate the junta from the 5PC, Mr Saifuddin said the junta have been uncooperative since its power grab last February.

"They have been isolating themselves and they don't seem to be very cooperative in the past year.

"We didn't say this last year. This is something we say after a year that there's almost no progress of the 5PC despite both special envoys trying their level best and working overtime to get - if not all - some of it to work," he said, referring to Dr Hayzer and Asean special envoy on Myanmar Prak Sokhonn, who is also Cambodian foreign minister.

Mr Saifuddin also called for more international organisations, especially those under the United Nations that have experience in sending humanitarian relief to war-stricken countries or conflict zones to be roped in to help.

He said the Asean Humanitarian Aid Centre, which is now tasked with the job of sending relief, has no such experience as they are more used to sending aid to disaster zones.

A soldier outside the Myanmar's Central Bank during a military coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Saifuddin also called on Asean member countries to take ownership of the humanitarian assistance, and for their non-governmental organisations to voluntarily offer help.

"Malaysia is ready with our Mercy Malaysia, which has been in Myanmar," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Saifuddin also said that "several countries" have indicated their willingness to increase their acceptance of more Rohingya refugees in Malaysia to be resettled there.

"The resettlement arrangement has been ongoing at all times, except when it was jeopardised during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We have been discussing with potential countries to accept refugees," he said, adding that several inputs were reached after a recent meeting with the director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur.

"I received the indication that there are a few countries that are prepared to accept Rohingya for resettlement, up to two fold of what they have been accepting at present.

"I will continue talks with several countries that before this have been receiving Rohingya refugees, and hope they will be able to accept more," he added.

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