Malaysian Foreign Minister Meets Counterpart From Myanmar’s Shadow Govt

By The Irrawaddy 16 May 2022

In another blow to Myanmar’s military regime, the Malaysian foreign minister met with his counterpart from Myanmar’s anti-regime National Unity Government (NUG), which the junta has designated a terrorist organization.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah became the first minister from an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member country to personally and publicly meet a NUG minister.

Saifuddin early this month attracted the regime’s ire by commenting that a move by ASEAN to informally engage the NUG “may be conceivable, especially on how humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar who are still in their country can be delivered.”

The junta slammed his comment as “irresponsible and reckless” and warned Malaysia against contacting or supporting what it calls a “terrorist group.”

Myanmar has been in social and political turmoil since the military seized power from the country’s democratically elected government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last year. ASEAN adopted a five-point peace plan for Myanmar in April 2021 urging the junta to immediately end the violence in the country and to hold an inclusive political dialogue, among other steps. The regime, which has killed more than 1,800 civilians so far, has failed to implement the plan. As a result, relations between the regional grouping and the junta have turned sour, with the regime’s leadership barred from attending summits since last year.

More than one week after the regime’s furious response to Malaysia, Saifuddin met the NUG minister, Daw Zin Mar Aung, informally on Saturday in Washington, where ASEAN leaders were gathered for a special summit between the US and the bloc. While junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was excluded from the summit, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and the US President’s Special Assistant and Senior Director for Democracy and Human Rights Rob Berschinski met with the NUG minister on Myanmar issue.

The NUG foreign minister tweeted that she had a “productive meeting” with Saifuddin and discussed “the dire situation in Myanmar, and how the NUG and Malaysia can work together to restore peace and democracy in Myanmar, including humanitarian assistance and support for the Myanmar refugees.”

Saifuddin tweeted that he had an informal meeting with Daw Zin Mar Aung “to express Malaysia’s support and solidarity with the people of Myanmar and stand ready to work towards restoring peace and democracy in Myanmar.”

The Malaysian foreign minister’s meeting with his NUG counterpart came amid condemnation of ASEAN over the lack of progress on its peace plan for Myanmar after a year, which has led to pressure for the regional bloc to engage with the NUG instead.

The regime’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that it “protested and objected in the strongest terms” to engagements in Washington between officials from the US State Department and representatives from “the so-called National Unity Government (NUG) and their subordinates.” It also rejected the summit’s joint statement, in which the US and ASEAN said they would “redouble their collective efforts towards a peaceful solution in Myanmar that also reflects a continued commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, as outlined in the ASEAN Charter.”

On the Malaysian minster’s meeting with the NUG foreign minister, the regime’s Foreign Ministry said it reiterated its call on government officials and parliamentarians of ASEAN member states and External Dialogue Partners “not to make contacts, engagements or communication as well as providing any support and assistance to those terrorist groups and their representatives.”