Malaysia to push ASEAN for swift decision on Myanmar 5-point consensus

Saifuddin Abdullah says he’s dissatisfied with ASEAN’s engagement with the Burmese opposition.
By Shailaja Neelakantan for BenarNews
Malaysia to push ASEAN for swift decision on Myanmar 5-point consensus Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (left) and Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai attend a news conference in Bangkok, Aug. 10, 2022.

Kuala Lumpur plans to press ASEAN into deciding the fate of its five-point consensus on Myanmar before the regional bloc’s summit in November, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said Monday in New York on the eve of high-level proceedings at the U.N. General Assembly.

By November the bloc will need to decide whether the consensus its leaders had agreed on with Myanmar in April 2021 should be junked, said Malaysia’s outspoken top diplomat, who has consistently taken the lead on post-coup Myanmar issues at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Saifuddin spoke to reporters as part of a panel after he met with Burmese opposition members in New York. Monday’s meeting took place amid reports that the junta forces had fired on a village school in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, killing at least seven children, in what appeared to be the deadliest incident involving children since last year’s military coup.

Saifuddin questioned the validity of the consensus.

“Between now and November ASEAN must seriously review if the 5-point consensus is still relevant and decide if it is still relevant. By the time we meet in November, we must ask hard questions and have an answer,” Saifuddin said as he addressed reporters afterwards at Malaysia’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations.

“If it is not working we have to decide what’s next. We cannot go in November and then start talking about it. We have to do the groundwork now.”

The Myanmar military meanwhile has blithely ignored the five-point consensus it agreed to with ASEAN last year, one of the main points of which was an end to violence. Its forces have also killed more nearly 2,300 people since the generals seized power by toppling an elected government on Feb. 1, 2021.

In July, Saifuddin had raised the prospect of scrapping the consensus to resolve Myanmar’s post-coup crisis, after the Burmese junta “made a mockery” of it by executing four political prisoners.

The consensus had called for an end to violence; constructive dialogue among all parties; the mediation of such talks by a special ASEAN envoy; the provision of ASEAN-coordinated humanitarian assistance and a visit to Myanmar by an ASEAN delegation to meet with all parties.

Activists and analysts have lambasted the Southeast Asian bloc for the failed five-point plan to restore democracy to Myanmar, because the junta and its leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, have ignored every point they agreed to 17 months ago at an emergency ASEAN summit in Jakarta.

On Monday, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights called the five-point consensus an “unmitigated failure.”

“We have to develop a new model, the way forward is the NUG should be a part of this,” said APHR Chairperson and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago, who attended the press briefing with Saifuddin.

“The NUG has no role to play in the existing model, but now the NUG should be part of the rebuilding of Myanmar,” Santiago added.

The NUG, or the National Unity Government, is the parallel civilian government of Myanmar.

On Monday, Saifuddin also expressed his disappointment with the extent of ASEAN’s dialogue with the Myanmar opposition, namely the NUG and the NUCC, a body of opposition stakeholders.

“Malaysia is not satisfied with the engagement [of ASEAN with the NUG and NUCC] because we have made this call months ago that ASEAN should engage with the NUG and NUCC,” he said.

“There must be consultation between ASEAN and stakeholders, with a clear endgame and the endgame is return to democracy in Myanmar.”

Malaysia was the first ASEAN member to officially contact Myanmar’s shadow, civilian government.

Saifuddin said the NUG in recent months had worked to bring together all the ethnic communities of Myanmar.

“In the past few months, the NUG has done a wonderful job of confidence building in all stakeholders. We have probably not seen such unity among all stakeholders ever,” he said.

“ASEAN must engage with the NUG, and this is something we will again bring up on the 22nd,” he said.

ASEAN foreign ministers are scheduled to meet informally Sept. 22 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.


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