Myanmar Junta Slams Malaysia’s Call for ASEAN to Engage Shadow Govt

By The Irrawaddy 3 May 2022

Myanmar’s junta has rejected Malaysia’s proposal that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) informally engage Myanmar’s shadow government as “irresponsible and reckless”, and warned Malaysian officials against contacting or supporting what it calls a “terrorist group”.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah said on Sunday that “We are not proposing for ASEAN to recognize other governments, but such informal engagement may be conceivable, especially on how humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar who are still in their country can be delivered,” referring to the National Unity Government (NUG).

The NUG was formed after the coup by lawmakers from Myanmar’s ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) and their ethnic allies to challenge the regime’s legitimacy at home and abroad. Many in Myanmar take the NUG as their legitimate government, while some Western countries are also informally engaging with the parallel government.

In response to the Malaysian foreign minister’s remarks, the Myanmar regime-controlled Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday strongly protested and rejected what it called the minister’s “irresponsible and reckless” remarks and proposals.

The junta ministry said such remarks could abet terrorism and violence in Myanmar, hamper the regime’s anti-terrorism efforts and infringe on international agreements on combatting terrorism.

Malaysia’s proposal that ASEAN informally engage with the NUG could be seen as a big blow to the regime, which has branded the NUG, its parliamentarian wing the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and its armed wing the People’s Defence Force (PDF) as terrorist groups.

“The Ministry cautions the government officials and parliamentarians of Malaysia against making contacts or communication as well as providing support and assistance to those terrorist groups and their representatives in future,” the regime said in the statement.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah said the proposal was made as there had been no progress by the regime on implementing ASEAN’s peace plan for Myanmar, which was drawn up last year to find a solution to the political stalemate in the country.

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. 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 1,700 civilians so far, has failed to implement the plan.

The minister’s comment came at a time when the regional bloc’s peace plan, known as the Five-Point Consensus, is being condemned as ineffectual and ASEAN criticized for failing to fulfill its pledges or take meaningful steps toward pressing the regime to end its human rights violations. Human rights groups have also pushed ASEAN to engage with the NUG instead.

The Malaysian foreign minister said to informally engage with the NUG was one of three proposals that Malaysia would bring to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on May 5, with the other two being to double humanitarian aid for Myanmar, and to strengthen the position and function of the ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar.

Both Myanmar and Malaysia are members of ASEAN.

Malaysia is one of the countries in Southeast Asia that has been critical of the military regime.

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