ASEAN envoy’s Myanmar trip and meeting with political parties delayed

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) special envoy’s meeting with members of Myanmar political parties, scheduled for Tuesday in Naypyitaw, was postponed as he had not yet arrived in the country, sources told Myanmar Now.

The junta’s election commission initially invited at least eight political parties to its Naypyitaw office to meet with ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar Erywan Yusof on Tuesday. Local media reports later said the meeting was postponed until Wednesday. The invited parties did not include representatives from the National League For Democracy (NLD), the ruling party ousted in the country’s February 1 military coup.

In a statement released on Tuesday, special envoy Yusof said he “looks forward to a visit to Myanmar” in accordance with the five-point consensus agreed to by ASEAN leaders in April. 

In August, ASEAN selected Yusof, Brunei’s second foreign minister, as its special envoy to the country to help resolve the political crisis that has followed the coup. 

The political parties invited by the junta’s election commission to the meeting include the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); the Union Betterment Party (UBP) of ex-general and parliamentary speaker Thura Shwe Mann; the Democratic Party of National Politics (DNP) founded by ex-general and known ultranationalist Soe Maung; the National United Democratic Party (NUD) started by a former NLD lawmaker and his family; the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), and three other ethnic state-based parties.

A senior UBP member told Myanmar Now that on Monday the junta’s election commission invited the party to the meeting with the special envoy but informed them again on Tuesday that it had been held back one day.

“They said they would tell us the time later,” the UBP party official said.

NUD chair Sein Win confirmed the postponement and said he would attend the meeting “only to listen to what they will say.”

Sai Aik Pao, the chair of the SNDP, also confirmed that the meeting was no longer taking place on Tuesday but refused to comment further. 

The military council has not yet announced details surrounding the ASEAN special envoy’s trip to Myanmar or the meeting with political parties. News of the trip was shared by representatives of the political parties invited by the junta’s election commission to attend.

The reason for Yusof’s delay was also unclear and could not be independently verified at the time of reporting. However, sources from within the police and from political parties told Myanmar Now that the envoy was supposed to fly from Brunei to Naypyitaw on Tuesday morning but the trip was postponed because junta chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing barred him from meeting with the individuals he requested. 

The junta last week denied the envoy’s request to speak with detained civilian leaders State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint but instead offered him a meeting with Vice President Henry Van Thio and former Lower House speaker T Khun Myat, according to The Irrawaddy.

The UBP senior party member who spoke to Myanmar Now said that the junta’s foreign affairs ministry is engaged in negotiations with the envoy regarding the trip.  

“For [the special envoy], this crisis can’t be solved without meeting with [Daw] Suu and other top leaders because they are the key to Myanmar’s current struggle. The trip was cancelled for now because he believes his trip will be meaningless if he can’t meet with them,” he said. 

Anti-coup protesters gather in Yangon’s Sule for demonstration on February 22 (Myanmar Now)

According to an October 5 interview by RFA with the military spokesperson Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun, the envoy’s request to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi was rejected on the grounds that she is facing trial on several charges.

“I have never heard of any governments allowing foreign delegates to meet with a person on trial or a person or representatives of illegal organisations, except in very special circumstances,” Zaw Min Tun said in the interview.

“We have been working in accordance with standard procedures,” he added.

Following a virtual meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers on October 4, Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah stated on Twitter that Malaysia was “disappointed” that the Myanmar junta refused to cooperate with the bloc’s special envoy and suggested that Myanmar could be excluded from the ASEAN summit scheduled for October 26-28.

In his RFA interview, junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun dismissed the foreign minister’s remark as “personal” and not reflective of ASEAN’s stance.

Days later, Saifuddin Abdullah said in the Malaysian parliament that his government may be willing to hold talks with Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) if the military continues to deny the ASEAN envoy’s request to talk to all relevant parties in the crisis, noting that this was one of the five points featured in the bloc’s April consensus. 

ASEAN leaders agreed in an April 24 meeting that there must be an end to violence in Myanmar, constructive dialogue with all parties involved, mediation supported by a special envoy, the provision of humanitarian aid, and a visit by the special envoy to the country to meet with relevant parties.  

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