Myanmar junta opponents say no faith in Asean as envoys visit

Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi (second from left) and Erywan Yusof, the second minister for foreign affairs for Asean chair Brunei (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) - Opponents of Myanmar's junta said on Friday (June 4) they had lost faith in South-east Asian efforts to end the crisis in the country, as two regional envoys met the military ruler Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyitaw.

The Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) has led the main international diplomatic effort to find a way out of the crisis in Myanmar, a country in turmoil since the military's Feb 1 overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government.

"We have little confidence in Asean's efforts. All of our hopes are gone," said Moe Zaw Oo, a deputy foreign minister in a parallel government that the junta has declared treasonous.

"I don't think they have a solid plan for their credibility," he said of Asean.

Moe Zaw Oo was speaking in a streamed news conference that was disrupted across Myanmar by Internet outages.

Two sources briefed on the outage, who declined to be identified for security reasons, told Reuters authorities had ordered the shutdown.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at consultancy firm Solaris Strategies Singapore, told The Straits Times that Mr Moe Zaw Oo's remarks were "politically premature" as long as efforts continue to be taken by Asean to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.

"It is however understandable given the perilous domestic situation in Myanmar and the 'alternative government' in Myanmar has yet to be engaged by Asean," he said.

The junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing met on Friday with Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi and Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, the second minister for foreign affairs for Asean chair Brunei, army-run Myawaddy TV reported.

It said the meeting discussed Myanmar cooperating on humanitarian issues, holding an election once the country was stable, and what it said were irregularities in last year's election, which led to the military intervention.

The top general said the junta would hold fresh elections when "the situation has returned to normal," according to the statement, without providing details.

The military, which ruled Myanmar from 1962 to 2011, had promised to return democracy within two years.

The visit was part of a five-point consensus reached at a meeting in Jakarta of the bloc's leaders late in April, which was attended by Gen Min Aung Hlaing and celebrated by Asean as a breakthrough.

Asean has yet to announce the visit and it was not immediately clear if the envoys planned to meet opponents of the military or other stakeholders.

Dr Mustafa said Asean needs to engage as soon as possible with other stakeholders in this crisis for its mediating role to be effective and credible.

He said it is unlikely for Asean to adopt sterner measures such as economic sanctions and embargoes so long as the line of communication remains open with the military generals.

However, Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Asean should at the very least suspend Myanmar participation in the grouping's activities.

"(Asean) should also adopt sterner measures in its economic and other interactions between Myanmar and member states. It could follow the lead and complement the strong measures adopted by other countries against Myanmar," he told ST.

Country in chaos

People flash the three-finger salute during a flash mob protest in Yangon on June 3, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Myanmar has sunk into chaos since the coup, with countrywide strikes, boycotts and protests paralysing the economy and tens of thousands of people displaced by heavy fighting between the military and ethnic minority insurgents and newly formed militias.

At least 845 people have been killed by security forces and more than 4,500 jailed, according to an activist group. The junta disputes those figures.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, 75, is among those held, charged in two different courts with offences ranging from breaching coronavirus curbs and illegally importing walkie-talkies to a violation of the Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

Her lawyer voiced concern on Friday that she had no legal representative in the most serious of the cases, which also includes her Australian economic adviser, Sean Turnell, but had listed all of them as representing themselves.

"We have concerns that they won't have any legal representatives and there won't be any transparency," Khin Maung Zaw told Reuters.

The National Unity Government (NUG), comprised of pro-democracy groups and supporters of Suu Kyi's ruling party, on Friday said it would end conflicts in Myanmar and write a new federal constitution but would first need to defeat the junta.

Its defence minister Khin Ma Ma Myo said militias called People's Defence Forces had been formed nationwide, but must work together with existing armed groups.

"The NUG government will call for a war at some point. When that time comes, we must work together to defeat the junta," he said.

"At the moment, it is not important who the leader is, it is important to defeat the common enemy - the terrorist regime."

Gen Min Aung Hlaing's meeting with the Asean envoys came a day after he met the head of the International Red Cross.

The United Nations, Western countries and China have all backed Asean's mediating role, but some Western powers have also imposed increasing sanctions to target junta members and their economic interests.

The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a group of independent international experts, said it was crucial that the Asean envoys meet all parties in the country, including protest leaders, the NUG, elected lawmakers and Suu Kyi's party.

"Failure to meet with all relevant parties risks lending legitimacy to the junta and undermines the enormous effort and sacrifice made by the people of Myanmar to resist the junta's violent and unlawful attempt to seize power," it said.

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