By Shailaja Neelakantan
Top ASEAN officials met Burmese junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar late last week where they presented names of candidates the bloc could appoint as a special envoy to the country and called for the release of all political prisoners, the regional group said in a statement.
This was the first time that the Chairman of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting called to release political detainees, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had, as a bloc, not made that demand so far about the people thrown in jail by the Myanmar junta after the Feb. 1 military coup.
“[I]ssues that were discussed include the appointment and the role of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair,” said the statement issued late on Saturday about the Friday-Saturday meeting among Min Aung Hlaing, other members of his State Administration Council, Chairman of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Erywan Pehin Yusof and Secretary-General of ASEAN, H. Lim Jock Hoi.
“In this regard, the Chairman of the AMM submitted to Myanmar the nominations proposed by ASEAN Member States for the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair to Myanmar. He also called for the release of all political prisoners, including women and children and foreigners.”
Erywan is also Brunei’s foreign minister and Brunei is ASEAN chair this year.
The statement did not mention what the Myanmar junta’s response was to a possible envoy or the release of prisoners.
The statement however said that ASEAN’s chairman “welcomed” Myanmar’s commitment to resume “ASEAN collective humanitarian efforts,” although it gave no timeline for when his may happen. The bloc also said it “welcomed” Myanmar’s commitment “in maintaining open and effective communication channels.”
Still, the Myanmar junta has said it would not agree to a visit by an ASEAN envoy until it could establish “stability” in the country. It also said, more than once, it would not implement a five-point consensus the bloc reached on April 24, until there was “stability” in the country.
This, despite Min Aung Hlaing being party to the consensus and being present at the ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Jakarta where the agreement was hammered out. Myanmar is one of 10 ASEAN member states.
The consensus had also called for an immediate end to violence, which the Myanmar junta has not abided by.
For its part, ASEAN has yet to name an envoy five weeks since the bloc’s leaders’ meeting. Critics had blamed ASEAN’s inability to name an envoy on divisions within the regional bloc.
And international rights groups and political analysts had roundly criticized ASEAN for trying to water down a U.N. resolution that included a clause calling for a halt to military arms sales to Myanmar, a development first reported by BenarNews on May 27.
Separately, Myanmar’s shadow government said on Friday that it has no expectation that ASEAN can help Myanmar, because the bloc has only engaged with the junta and has neglected the parallel civilian government, regional media outlet The Irrawaddy reported.
“Frankly speaking, we no longer have any faith in ASEAN’s efforts, and we have no expectation,” said the National Unity Government’s Deputy Foreign Minister U Moe Zaw Oo.
ASEAN, he said, “does not have a solid plan for their credibility.”
The April 24 meeting of ASEAN leaders had not invited anyone from the NUG, for which it was criticized by several rights groups.
ASEAN member Thailand on Sunday said it was concerned about the violence in Myanmar, Reuters news agency reported.
“We have been following developments in Myanmar closely with much concern, especially incidents of violence in many parts of the country,” foreign ministry spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said in a statement.
He also said that Thailand calls for the release of all detainees and the “concrete implementation of the Five-Point Consensus” as soon as possible.
The implementation of the five-point consensus was the objective of the ASEAN officials’ meeting in Myanmar with its junta chief on Friday-Saturday, the bloc’s statement said.
“The objective of the working visit was to discuss how ASEAN could assist Myanmar in reaching a peaceful solution in the interests of its people through the effective and timely implementation of the Five-Point Consensus, particularly the appointment and role of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar,” the statement said.
The meeting was held also to discuss how ASEAN could “assist in facilitating constructive dialogue among all parties in Myanmar and provide ASEAN’s humanitarian assistance to Myanmar.”
Meanwhile, foreign ministers from ASEAN countries and China are set to meet in person on Monday and Tuesday for the first time in more than a year, amid the political crisis in Myanmar.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, some observers had said, would “assist” ASEAN foreign ministers in agreeing on an envoy to Myanmar at this meeting to be held in Chongqing, China.
Beijing wields great influence in many Southeast Asian countries, owing to their proximity and large Chinese investments in the region’s nations. Similarly, China has many significant investments in Myanmar, as well.
On Saturday, the Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar met with Myanmar’s junta chief who reportedly said he was open to working with ASEAN, according to an embassy statement posted on Facebook.
“The Myanmar side is willing to work together with ASEAN to safeguard the domestic stability of Myanmar and implement the relevant consensus,” the statement by the Chinese embassy in Myanmar said.
“China sincerely hopes for the … restoration of peace and stability in Myanmar, and supports the implementation of consensus by ASEAN and Myanmar. China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.”