Diplomats: ASEAN awaits approval from Myanmar envoy

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The 10-nation bloc has been under increasing international pressure to act on the troubles unfolding in Myanmar, an ASEAN member where the military in February toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The regional group, however, is hamstrung by its bedrock policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations and in its decision-making by consensus, meaning just one member state can shoot down any proposal.

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations want to designate Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof as special envoy to Myanmar, a decision reached in their annual meeting Monday, the two Southeast Asian diplomats said. The diplomats spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly. Myanmar did not immediately react to the choice, preventing the ministers from issuing a post-conference joint communique that would have reflected the key development, the diplomats said. The appointment of the special envoy can’t be made without Myanmar’s approval and it was not immediately clear why Myanmar did not respond to the proposed choice. One of the diplomats said the ASEAN ministers were pressuring Myanmar so that the work of the special envoy could commence as soon as possible.

One of the Southeast Asian diplomats said Myanmar preferred the special envoy be the candidate from Thailand, former Thai ambassador to Myanmar Virasakdi Futrakul. Even if Myanmar were to get its preferred choice, it remains uncertain if and when the nation’s military leaders would allow access to Suu Kyi, who has been detained with other political leaders and put on trial for a slew of charges, said the diplomats.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will join ASEAN’s online ministerial meetings this week, and two senior state department officials said he will urge member nations to hold Myanmar’s military leaders accountable and appoint an envoy who will push the military to end the violence, release those detained and restore democratic governance. The officials said the military takeover had impacted all of ASEAN and threatened stability in the region. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak on the record. Indonesian Foreign Secretary Retno Marsudi said after Monday’s meeting that if Myanmar would not respond to ASEAN’s calls, her country will continue to voice its concerns.

“We will not remain silent about the suffering of the Myanmar people,” she told reporters by video. More than 900 people have been killed by Myanmar authorities since the February takeover, many in anti-government 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. ASEAN leaders held an emergency meeting in Indonesia in April and called for an end to the violence and the start of a dialogue among contending parties to be mediated by an ASEAN envoy. The high-level meeting was attended by Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing.

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