Myanmar military ruler pledges elections, Asean cooperation

YANGON (REUTERS) – Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday (Aug 1) again promised new multi-party elections and said his government is ready to work with any special envoy named by the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

He spoke in a televised address six months after the army seized power from a civilian government after disputed elections won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party, which he described as “terrorists”.

“Myanmar is ready to work on Asean cooperation within the Asean framework including the dialogue with the Asean Special Envoy in Myanmar,” Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said.

Foreign ministers from members of Asean are under pressure to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar this week after months of negotiations have failed to find a consensus candidate.

Six months after the military toppled Myanmar’s democratically elected government, Asean foreign ministers will meet on Monday (Aug 2), when diplomats say they aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.

The United Nations, China and the United States, among others, have identified the South-east Asian bloc, whose 10 members include Myanmar, as best placed to lead diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar.

Myanmar has been racked by a deadly crackdown on protests, economic collapse and a refugee exodus since the coup. A surge in coronavirus infections has overwhelmed the country’s health system, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the past month.

The search for a special envoy began in April, when Asean leaders produced a “five-point consensus” to tackle the turmoil in Myanmar.

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The UN and the US have both urged Asean to expedite appointment of the special envoy in recent weeks.

The second minister for foreign affairs of Brunei, Mr Erywan Yusof, said last Friday night he hoped a final decision would be made on Monday. Brunei chairs Asean this year.

“Without the envoy leading the way, it is very difficult” to address the situation in Myanmar, he said.

Asean has been deeply divided on the envoy, and discussed appointing more than one to break the deadlock.

Four regional diplomatic sources said Mr Erywan was favoured to become envoy and be assisted by “advisers”. But a meeting of senior Asean officials last Thursday failed to reach agreement, they said.

As well as the nine other Asean members, Myanmar’s military regime will have to approve the appointment, they said.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s National Unity Government which opposes the military junta, said the envoy must “put the people of Myanmar front and centre”.

“Anything that can help alleviate the people’s suffering is welcome,” said Dr Sasa, who goes by one name.

Mr Erywan publicly confirmed he was one of four candidates.

Diplomats said the others were Thailand’s deputy foreign minister Weerasak Footrakul, former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda and veteran Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.

Asean will also announce a proposal to provide aid to Myanmar, including support to combat the pandemic, diplomats said.


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