Myanmar will send a “non-political, high-level” envoy to next week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, an official said Tuesday, after the bloc barred junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing from attending, citing a lack of cooperation by the military regime.
Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told RFA’s Myanmar Service that an official from the foreign ministry will attend the three-day summit, which kicks off on Oct. 26 in Brunei, after getting the green light from ASEAN representatives. He declined to provide the name and position of the envoy.
The announcement follows a decision by ASEAN foreign ministers at an emergency meeting on Oct. 15 to deny Min Aung Hlaing a seat at the table for next week’s gathering because he had reneged on implementing steps to restore peace and democracy following the military’s Feb. 1 coup, as reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
The bloc also cited the junta’s refusal to allow ASEAN special envoy Erywan Yusof access to detained former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) government.
Min Aung Hlaing had agreed to allow the special envoy meet with all stakeholders as part of a five-point consensus reached at an ASEAN meeting in April that was called to discuss the post-coup situation in Myanmar. Yusof, who was appointed on Aug. 4, canceled his trip to Myanmar this week after being refused the meetings.
In response to last week’s decision, Myanmar’s junta issued a statement alleging the decision was taken without all members’ agreement—ASEAN decides on issues and actions based on consensus.
On Monday, in an emergency address, Min Aung Hlaing said Yusuf’s demands were a “not negotiable,” but that his government would cooperate “as much as possible.”
“The ASEAN special envoy’s visit to Myanmar is still under discussion due to various proposals,” he said.
“A country is governed jointly by the legislature and the judiciary. Apart from special laws issued as required, the two bodies must make everything work in unison. The demands of the ASEAN envoy are not negotiable. In any case, our country is a member of ASEAN, and we will do our best.”
Min Aung Hlaing blamed the international community for pressuring the military, while remaining silent about “violence” committed by the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), Parliament’s Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Committee of Representatives (CRPH), and the anti-junta People’s Defense Force militia.
In the more than eight months since the coup, security forces have killed 1,181 civilians and arrested at least 7,190, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
The junta says it unseated the NLD government because, they claimed, the party had engineered a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. It has yet to present evidence of its claims and public unrest is at an all-time high.
On Monday, the junta released 5,636 political prisoners in what observers said was a bid to ease pressure from ASEAN and the international community—claims Zaw Min Tun denied.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, political analyst Dr. Sai Kyi Zin Soe said it would be best for the junta to comply with ASEAN demands after ruining its credibility by going back on its promises.
“I don’t think it will be easy now for the junta to act as it wants while trying to make the international community accept it, so now things depend on how many international requests it will accept,” he said.
“It hasn’t accepted any yet. If it continues to refuse to agree to implement the five points previously agreed upon, ASEAN might impose some kind of action or punishment, which it has never done before.”
Call for dialogue
Moe Thuzar, an expert on ASEAN affairs, said the bloc had stepped up its diplomatic pressure because it wants to give a stern warning to the junta not to take advantage of its cooperation, despite a long-standing relationship with the military.
“ASEAN has led the international community to support recommendations in the hope of bringing about a positive outcome in Myanmar,” she said.
“In this situation, ASEAN will not decide on an excessive action that might break mutual ties. But ASEAN might take a firmer stand to make sure its constructive approach is not taken advantage of.”
However, she added that pressure was unlikely to result in the junta making any immediate changes to its attitude or holding a meaningful political dialogue anytime soon. She said ASEAN and the international community “still need to do more” to push the junta on holding talks.
Kyaw Htwe, a member of the NLD Central Committee and a former member of parliament for Zabu Thiri township, said it is imperative that all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, be released before meaningful political talks could be held.
“A positive and open dialogue for the good of the country needs to be inclusive,” he said.
“For the talks to be truly meaningful, all current detainees must be released unconditionally, and all legitimate political parties must be able to function without disrupting the political process.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.