Slim Hope for Progress Seen in Myanmar Talks With ASEAN Envoy

Many fear the junta that overthrew the elected government will use the visit to shore up its legitimacy.
2021.08.10
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Slim Hope for Progress Seen in Myanmar Talks With ASEAN Envoy Erywan Yusof, Brunei's second minister for foreign affairs and trade, addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 30, 2019.
AP

Political opposition figures and analysts in Myanmar say they see scant hope that progress can be made toward resolving the country’s crisis in expected talks between the generals who overthrew the elected government and a representative from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Appointed by 10-member ASEAN on Aug. 4 after months of delay, Erywan Yusof—a senior Brunei diplomat—has said he will insist on meeting with jailed members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government overthrown and arrested in a the Feb. 1 military coup.

He has yet to announce a date for his visit, though, citing a need to consult with other countries and stakeholders concerned with post-coup violence in Myanmar and its possible impact on stability in the wider Southeast Asian region.

Erywan is now tasked with implementing a five-point consensus on Myanmar agreed by ASEAN at a special summit held in April in Jakarta and calling for the appointment of an envoy, provision of humanitarian assistance, cessation of violence, dialogue among all parties, and mediation by the envoy.

Speaking on Monday on condition of anonymity, a member of the NLD’s Central Committee said he welcomes ASEAN’s mediation in the post-coup crisis, but voiced concern that the country’s ruling military will simply use the 10-nation regional bloc for its own ends.

“One of our concerns is that the regime will use the mediation process as a way to buy time and try to win international recognition,” the NLD member said. “And if that happens, ASEAN’s current leaders will be despised by future generations [in our country].”

“This will be an opportunity for ASEAN to raise its prestige if it can secure a meeting with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the people of Myanmar trust and respect as their irreplaceable leader,” he said.

Erywan may find that junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing does not allow him to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi or with other NLD figures currently held in jail or on trial in the country’s capital Naypyidaw, other sources said.

“Min Aung Hlaing has no intention of negotiating,” said Than Soe Naing, a political analyst based in Myanmar.  

The envoy “could ask for permission to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, and he could say that he wanted to meet with other important people, too, but the military would simply reject his requests,” he said, adding, “He’s only a representative from ASEAN.”

“He might say ‘Please stop [the violence],’ but this won’t happen,” he said.

'Chance for a meaningful dialogue'

ASEAN, which follows a founding principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of member states, will never be able to solve Myanmar’s political crisis, Than Soe Naing said.

“Who will be on the ASEAN delegate’s list of people to meet?” asked Sai Leik, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy in Myanmar’s Shan state. “Will people like Aung San Suu Kyi and [former Myanmar president] Win Myint be allowed to meet with him? Will he meet with the resistance groups?”

“Only if he gets a chance to meet with all these people will there be a chance for a meaningful dialogue, but it is questionable whether all of this can happen,” he said.

“If he just meets with the military leaders selected by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and then leaves the country, the whole thing will be meaningless. People will not get what they want, and the mediation process will only strengthen the junta’s hold on power.”

Myanmar’s military leaders have already recognized Erywan’s appointment as ASEAN envoy, and he will be allowed to enter the country, said Naing Swe Oo, executive director of the Thayninga Strategic Studies Institute, a pro-military think tank in Yangon.

“He will hold talks with government leaders, but the process will have to go in accordance with the road map laid out by the State Administration Council,” he said, using the junta’s formal name.

“I don’t see any changes in this. There could be political dialogue, but I don’t think there will be much progress,” added Naing Swe Oo.

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, claiming voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party in the country’s November 2020 election.

The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide demonstrations calling for a return to civilian rule, killing at least 962 people over the past six months.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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