Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) has joined local and international organizations in criticizing the decision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to provide humanitarian aid to the Myanmar people via the military regime.
Cambodia, the ASEAN chair for 2022, hosted a consultative meeting on ASEAN humanitarian assistance to Myanmar on May 5-6, which was attended by the junta’s international cooperation minister U Ko Ko Hlaing.
At the meeting, Cambodia said ASEAN plans to provide humanitarian aid to Kayah and Karen states, and Magwe, Sagaing and Bago regions in consultation with the work committee of the regime’s State Administration Council (SAC).
Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who is the ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar, told reporters after the meeting that participants had persuaded the junta minister to give up his plan to tax humanitarian supplies.
ASEAN’s relief package reportedly includes COVID-19 vaccines. Cambodia has not yet announced when delivery of aid will begin.
The NUG released a statement on May 7 saying it is deeply disappointed and concerned about the outcome of the consultative meeting, which has the put the SAC’s taskforce led by U Ko Ko Hlaing at the center of ASEAN’s humanitarian response.
“This process poses a high risk of failure in the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance without discrimination, legitimizing the SAC’s infrastructure and politicizing the humanitarian response by coercing ethnic armed organizations to engage with the SAC,” said the statement.
U Kyaw Zaw, the NUG’s President’s Office spokesperson said: “Only the SAC representative was allowed to join the consultative meeting, and other stakeholders were excluded. The United Nations (UN) special envoy to Myanmar was initially invited to the meeting, but later that invitation was cancelled. That is very ugly. It is disappointing and should not have happened.”
The regime will not deliver the aid to those in need, but will use it as a political weapon, added U Kyaw Zaw.
“[The regime] has arbitrarily detained people and tortured and killed them. It has even detained infants, sealed off and torched houses. Is it possible that those who are committing such acts will help the millions of people facing many hardships? The aid will not reach the people, but the regime will deliver supplies for show and try to take political advantage. They will try to use humanitarian aid as a weapon,” he remarked.
Deputy executive director of the Chin Human Rights Organization Salai Za Uk Ling said that ASEAN has breached its Five-Point Consensus by making the decision to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar after consulting only with the regime’s representative and excluding other stakeholders.
A constructive dialogue among all parties is one of points stated in the Five-Point Consensus agreed in April last year between ASEAN and junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
“It was a one-sided meeting that only engaged with the regime and its outcome is meaningless. ASEAN should hold a multi-stakeholder dialogue in accordance with the Five-Point Consensus and take action according to the outcome of such dialogue. Now ASEAN itself has violated the Consensus,” said Salai Za Uk Ling.
In Chin State, more than 230 civilians have been killed by the regime, while 20 per cent of the population have been forced from their homes, and over 1,000 people detained and some 1,500 houses razed by arson attacks, he added.
“People who were forced from their homes by the regime’s human rights violations have fled into areas that are beyond the control of the regime. They need humanitarian assistance. There is a special need to supply the people in border areas and other parts of the country that are out of the reach of junta troops. It is important that aid is delivered without the involvement of the regime,” Salai Za Uk Ling said.
Director Naw Htoo Htoo of the Karen Human Rights Group said that ASEAN had made a ridiculous decision to place the regime, which is responsible for destruction of many lives across the country, at the center of relief efforts.
“The regime will not distribute aid to war-affected people. Isn’t it a joke that those who are destroying people’s properties will lead the humanitarian efforts? It doesn’t make sense,” said Naw Htoo Htoo.
At the consultative meeting, junta minister U Ko Ko Hlaing suggested that all relief supplies be shipped via Yangon airport and port. His suggestion indicates that the regime is trying to control all humanitarian supplies coming into Myanmar.
“Civil society organizations have called for a review of the Five-Point Consensus. And they need to need think beyond it. ASEAN leaders need to listen to the voices of the Myanmar people,” said Naw Htoo Htoo.
The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), a group of former UN special envoys to Myanmar, said in a May 9 statement that ASEAN’s plans for humanitarian assistance to Myanmar flout the fundamental humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence and will advance the military objectives of the junta.
“The areas singled out for humanitarian assistance by the military junta under ASEAN’s plan are the very areas where the junta has been relentlessly attacking civilians with airstrikes and scorched-earth campaigns for months on end. The junta has no power in those areas and its attempt to control ASEAN’s delivery of aid to them is nothing more than a strategy designed to advance its military agenda,” said Marzuki Darusman, the former chairman of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
The SAC-M is an independent group of international experts working for human rights, peace, democracy, justice and accountability in Myanmar and consists of former UN human rights special envoy for Myanmar Yanghee Lee, Marzuki Darusman and UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar member Chris Sidoti.
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