KUALA LUMPUR: Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Wednesday (Aug 4) picked Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof as their special envoy to Myanmar, in a breakthrough after months of delay for regional mediation to help end the country's deepening crisis.
Erywan has been tasked with ending violence in Myanmar, opening dialogue between the military rulers and their opponents in the crisis-torn country, according to a communique released after meetings on Monday and Wednesday by foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asians.
Erywan will begin his work in Myanmar to “build trust and confidence with full access to all parties concerned", according to a joint statement.
He will also oversee a humanitarian aid package, although no details of the assistance were announced, according to Reuters.
Instead, the statement called for the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance to start work on "policy guidance".
Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan described the appointment of a special envoy as a "critical first step" for ASEAN's implementation of the five-point consensus agreed in April, and urged Myanmar's military authorities to arrange Erywan's visit expeditiously.
"He must be granted access to all stakeholders to facilitate meaningful dialogue and find a durable and peaceful political solution," said Dr Balakrishnan in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
The 10-nation bloc has been under increasing international pressure to act on violence and instability in Myanmar, an ASEAN member where the military in February toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and cracked down on opponents.
The ministers reiterated their concerns, including reports of fatalities and violence. But they stopped short of calling for the release of political detainees, saying only they “heard calls” for their freedom, in a reflection of the sensitivity over the issue.
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The regional group is hamstrung by its bedrock policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member nations and in its decision-making by consensus, meaning just one member state can shoot down any proposal.
Erywan was among at least four candidates proposed by the grouping, and Myanmar was believed to have preferred a former Thai diplomat. Its decision to cave in to the grouping’s demands indicated the military rulers are still hoping to rely on ASEAN support as they face international condemnation.
A Southeast Asian diplomat said foreign ministers had picked Erywan at their meeting on Monday but could not announce it as Myanmar had not given the nod.
The ministers held another session earlier on Wednesday and finally managed to persuade the military government, said the diplomat who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.
During a sometimes fractious foreign ministers meeting on Monday, Indonesia's foreign minister Retno Marsudi also questioned the military regime's status in ASEAN as it baulked at Erywan's nomination, Reuters reported.
Indonesia's foreign ministry said in a separate statement on Wednesday that the special envoy will start working soon and have "full access to all parties" in Myanmar. Many Myanmar opposition figures, including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are detained at home or in prison.
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Critics have accused ASEAN of conferring legitimacy on Myanmar's junta by accepting its representatives at the group's meetings, said Reuters.
But the Indonesian statement highlighted subtle changes made to the wording in the joint communique so that it "cannot be seen as an acknowledgment of the military junta".
More than 900 people have been killed by Myanmar authorities since the February takeover, many in anti-coup protests, according to a tally kept by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Casualties are also rising among the military and police as armed resistance grows in both urban and rural areas.
Myanmar’s troubles have deepened with its worst coronavirus surge, which has overwhelmed its crippled health care system.
ASEAN leaders have called for an end to the violence and the start of a dialogue among parties to be mediated by an ASEAN envoy. Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing has repeated his pledge to hold fresh elections in two years and cooperate with ASEAN on finding a political solution.