Asean should facilitate talks, not deal solely with junta: Envoy of ousted Myanmar lawmakers

Demonstrators hold placards during a rally in front of the Indonesian embassy in Yangon, on Feb 24, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - An envoy of elected Myanmar lawmakers ousted by the military coup says Asean should not be talking solely to the military regime, but should also reach out to protesters in order to bring all parties to the negotiating table.

"Coming to the generals and saying 'you must hold the election as you said you will hold' - that's interfering in domestic affairs," Dr Sasa told The Straits Times, referring to Asean's policy of non-interference.

"If they said 'we are not interfering with domestic affairs', they should just facilitate dialogue," he said, adding that this should be a tri-party dialogue involving the military, elected lawmakers who were ousted and the protesters.

"We can include our Asean neighbours at the table to observe," said Dr Sasa, who goes by one name.

The well-respected medical doctor was on Monday (Feb 22) appointed as the envoy to the United Nations by the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a 17-member body of lawmakers forced to go underground by the military which seized power on Feb 1 and launched mass arrests.

Dr Sasa, who is from Myanmar's impoverished Chin state, spoke to ST via Zoom from an undisclosed location on Tuesday night, after news of Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi's visit this week to Myanmar led to anti-coup demonstrations outside the Indonesian embassy in Yangon. Her visit was eventually scrapped.

Ms Retno travelled to Bangkok on Wednesday, where Myanmar's regime-appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin also landed. A Thai foreign affairs ministry spokesman confirmed earlier on Wednesday that the two ministers will meet.

An unconfirmed report this week said Indonesia was pushing a proposal within Asean to hold the junta to its pledge of staging an election. To the protesters, this was tantamount to giving legitimacy to the military's yet-unproven claim of massive fraud in Myanmar's Nov 8 election, where the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) scored a second landslide victory.

The country of 54 million has been seized by mass anti-coup protests and a growing civil disobedience movement which have closed hospitals, banks and rail services.

At least four people have died so far after crackdowns on the demonstrations, which according to witnesses sometimes involved live bullets. Over 600 people have been arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Deposed state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and has been charged with violating the export and import law and the natural disaster management law.

The regime now helmed by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has termed the largely peaceful protests as "riots" and says the action it took was "similar to that of democratic countries in accord with the practices of democracy". It has replaced the entire election commission with a new team which has invited political parties to a meeting on Friday.

Dr Sasa said Myanmar does not need another election.

"We have already had an election. Why do we need another election?" he said. The poll organised by the military would not be free nor fair, and would likely involve only the military's allies, he alleged.

History will judge Asean harshly if it pushes the election proposal, he warned. "We will not be silenced... We will not be cheated like that. We cannot treat elections as a joke."

Dr Sasa speaking to ST during a Zoom interview on Feb 23, 2021.

Asked how he planned to get his message out, Dr Sasa said he would reach out to British and United States lawmakers first.

"We would like China to be on our side, but it's very difficult," he said. "We would like to make sure that we work with our allies first."

Dr Sasa also conceded that a nationwide strike by both civil servants as well as private-sector employees - now into its third week - was hitting the poorest hardest.

"It's painful but we will definitely find a way to help the people who are in need. We are talking in a language like 'you cook rice tonight and I cook vegetables and let's share'," he said.

"We are not going to die of hunger. But we may die by bullets."

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