The US State Department’s Counselor has urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to engage with Myanmar’s shadow civilian National Unity Government (NUG), as the country’s political crisis cannot be resolved by engaging only with the military regime.
Derek Chollet told the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore that Washington has been urging ASEAN countries that are either not engaging or not visibly engaging to “do more of that” because the US believes it’s very important, particularly due to the junta’s restrictions on anyone engaging with the democratic opposition inside Myanmar.
ASEAN member Myanmar has been in political and economic turmoil since last year’s coup. The regime can’t control the country because of the popular armed resistance movement backed by the NUG.
ASEAN’s Special Envoy for Myanmar visited the country earlier this year, but met only with the regime.
“Engaging with the democratic opposition is critical. You are not going to resolve this by just engaging with the junta,” Derek Chollet told the Straits Times.
The State Department official’s call for more engagement follows last month’s meeting between the NUG and US government officials in Washington on the sidelines of the US-ASEAN summit.
NUG foreign minister Daw Zin Mar Aung also met Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, who had called for ASEAN to engage with the NUG prior to the meeting, making Malaysia the first ASEAN member to engage publicly with the NUG. The meeting was slammed by the junta, which was excluded from the US-ASEAN summit for failing to honor the bloc’s peace plan for Myanmar.
Chollet’s call for dialogue between ASEAN and the NUG came before he departed for Thailand, Singapore and Brunei on Tuesday. During his tour, he will focus on the Myanmar crisis, as well as on other bilateral issues, according to the State Department.
In his interview with the Straits Times, the State Department Counselor said that the US has had regular video meetings with the NUG leadership over the last eight or nine months, as well as engaging with them to help build capacity and make them more effective at organizing themselves and delivering for the Myanmar people.
Chollet said that he will be discussing the political pathway forward for Myanmar during his trip to Southeast Asia.
“We seem to be at a political stalemate in terms of getting Myanmar back on the path to democracy… it’s very tough going right now,” he said.
“But that is why we are putting a premium on engaging intensively with ASEAN and others who have an interest in a peaceful and democratic future for Myanmar,” added Chollet.
It’s still unknown how ASEAN will respond to Washington’s call to engage more with the NUG, with the junta opposed to any such engagement as it regards the NUG as a terrorist organization.
The ten-member bloc has been criticized for its failed peace plan for Myanmar, known as the Five-Point Consensus. Adopted in April last year, the Consensus called for the regime to stop violence in the country immediately and to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
However, the regime has ignored most of the points in the Consensus, while killing over 1,800 people for their anti-coup activism. It has approved ASEAN to deliver aid, provided it is distributed first to the junta. ASEAN’s agreement to that has been criticized by rights groups, who fear that the regime will use the aid for its own benefit, while neglecting those in need.
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