‘He doesn’t represent the country’: battle to starve Myanmar coup leader of legitimacy rages on

The National Unity Government (NUG) has hit out at a bloc of seven Asian countries for recognising coup leader Min Aung Hlaing as Myanmar’s head of state, as the battle to starve the junta of legitimacy rages on. 

The widely despised military chief was described as the “honorary chairman of the State Administration Council” in a recent announcement from BIMSTEC, a trade bloc also covering India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh.

The NUG, formed by MPs who were unable to take their seats after the military seized power on February 1, has repeatedly demanded that it be treated as Myanmar’s legitimate government by the international community. 

“We condemn inviting the illegal coup leader as a legitimate head of the state representing Myanmar, whether it is BIMSTEC or ASEAN or any country,” Zin Mar Aung, foreign affairs minister for the NUG, told Myanmar Now. 

“He doesn’t represent the country,” she added. “We can’t even say that the coup leader represents the whole military, only a group of individuals who staged the coup.” 

Min Aung Hlaing, who has overseen the murders of more than 850 people since the coup, was invited to provide remarks in honour of BIMSTEC’s 24th Anniversary on June 6. 

“As Myanmar views BIMSTEC as a key platform for peace, prosperity and sustainability in the Bay of Bengal region, we are committed to active cooperation in response to new and emerging challenges,” he said in his statement.

The decision to include him is “an embarrassment and an insult to the Myanmar people, who have made it clear that they totally reject his murderous regime,” said Kasit Piromya of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights pressure group. 

“What international actors–including BIMSTEC–should be doing is working to engage the National Unity Government. These are the representatives of the Myanmar people, and it is they who deserve international recognition, not this power-hungry general,” he added.

Representatives from BIMSTEC did not respond to a request for comment. 

In April the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs drew outrage when it invited the junta’s chief of police and deputy home affairs minister, Than Hlaing, to talk at a conference via video link.  

UN bodies have since changed tack. Late last month the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Myanmar would be excluded from its annual assembly after representatives from both the junta and the NUG applied to attend. 

The International Labour Organization, another UN body, dealt with the issue the same way. 

It said on Monday that no one would be given credentials to represent Myanmar, citing the WHO’s decision and saying the precedent was that “this is a matter for the General Assembly.” 

A group of international experts on Thursday urged G7 leaders to “fill the vacuum” left by the UN and ASEAN and “take decisive action to defend democracy and human rights in Myanmar.” 

Ahead of this weekend’s G7 leaders’ summit, the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar noted that G7 countries including the US have led the way with targeted sanctions. 

But it added that those efforts would be futile unless leaders moved to stop oil giants like Total and Chevron from bankrolling the regime with natural gas revenues. 

“Without cutting off this billion-dollar income, all other sanctions will be in vain,” said Yanghee Lee, a member of the council and the former UN human rights envoy to Myanmar. 

Chris Sidoti, another council member, said G7 leaders must also officially recognise the NUG. 

“With the support of the people through their elected representatives and representative organisations, the National Unity Government is the legitimate government of Myanmar,” he said. 

“G7 leaders must stand against authoritarianism, refuse to give any legitimacy to the junta and recognise the National Unity Government,” he added.    


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