We're Live Bangla Thursday, September 29, 2022

Myanmar anti-coup leader says ASEAN summit falls short of goals

Rejection Of Proposals Leave Bleak Prospects For Dialogue

Activists protest to support the anti-coup movement and democracy in Myanmar, near the ASEAN secretariat building in Jakarta.   © Reuters

There will be "no compromise" between the newly formed National Unity Government of Myanmar and the military regime unless the group's demands are met, its civilian envoy told Nikkei Asia on Saturday, as he welcomed concerns voiced at a Southeast Asian leaders summit to discuss the crisis in Myanmar.

In an interview from an undisclosed location, Dr. Sasa, the National Unity Government (NUG) spokesperson and cabinet minister, said there would be no chance of dialogue unless the junta, known as the State Administration Council, agreed to conditions for dialogue.

"There is no compromise, we have laid out our four conditions," Sasa, who only uses one name, said. "It's not me, it's the people of Myanmar, we can't legitimize killing. If you legitimize the junta you legitimize the military."

The NUG has demanded the junta restore the country's democratically elected leaders and parliamentarians from the November election, including the country's de facto head, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. Other demands are an end to violence against civilians, soldiers removed from streets and the release of political prisoners.

The military claims the elections were rigged -- after the parties it backed were trounced at the polls -- and uses the allegation to justify the Feb. 1 coup.

Sasa spoke after Association of Southeast Asia Nations leaders met with junta chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in Jakarta, where leaders implored the regime to end the violent clampdown against pro-democracy protesters that has killed at least 750 people -- including dozens of children -- and imprisoned more than 4,000, according to human rights groups.

According to the ASEAN chairman's statement issued after the meeting, five points agreed by the leaders or their representatives -- with the consent of the junta chief, according to senior ASEAN officials -- called for: an "immediate cessation of violence" and restraint by all parties; for all parties to commence "constructive dialogue" toward "a peaceful solution in the interests of the people"; the appointment of a special envoy of the ASEAN chair who shall mediate the dialogue; and for ASEAN to provide humanitarian assistance through the group's disaster relief center (AHA); and for ASEAN's special envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with all parties.

"While we welcome the statements, this will be measured by the degree of their actions, said Sasa, who is also the NUG's minister for international cooperation. "Statements are easy, but if there is no action it makes it meaningless. We have to wait and see, if there is withdrawal of forces."

A leader of the NUG and a key personality in the resistance movement since the military takeover, Sasa was with Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyitaw the night before the coup. After studying medicine in Armenia, he returned to Chin state to launch community health programs, eventually joining the NLD to run its 2020 general election campaign in his home state, an impoverished area bordering India.

Dr. Sasa, the National Unity Government spokesperson and cabinet minister.

Part of the progress on the five points of consensus will rest with Brunei, a tiny island kingdom off the coast of Borneo that currently holds the rotating ASEAN chair. The secretary-general of the group is also a Bruneian diplomat.

It remained unclear who the special envoy would be. It was also unclear who would represent the Committee for Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of ousted lawmakers, and NUG in any dialogue, as many members are in hiding or imprisoned after declared the two groups to be illegal.

In a sign of division among ASEAN leaders, some of the NUG's conditions were put on the back burner at the Saturday summit. Earlier drafts of the chairman's statement called for the release of political prisoners, but that was dropped in the final version, according to two diplomats who saw the drafts.

The final agreement, while appearing to set the stage for dialogue, also failed to mention the NUG's calls to restore democracy and allow elected politicians back to power.

If the military ignores the ASEAN proposals to stop the violence, the NUG would simply continue to try to build international support for its parallel government, he said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, speaking after the ASEAN meeting, said that "inclusive dialogue must start," while echoing the call to release political prisoners. "We need to appoint a special ASEAN envoy to push for dialogues involving all parties in Myanmar."

But Sasa said that ASEAN's proposals would not bring NUG and its legislative body CRPH to the table as long as the group's conditions were not met.

The NUG's conditions, including restoration of democracy and release of all political prisoners, were nonnegotiable, Sasa noted.

If there was no progress on the NUG's conditions for dialogue, the parallel government would continue to work with what he called an "alliance' of countries he said had emerged to win recognition and support.

"We will collaborate together, for example with the U.K., the U.S., the EU, as well as Asian countries including Japan, India, South Korea -- they are democracies, they have to help us," he said.

Those businesses who keep paying taxes to the regime are supporting the Tatmadaw, as the army is known, to buy more weapons from China and Russia to kill more people, the minister warned.

Japan, he said, was one of the NUG's "strongest allies," and a leading democracy in Asia. "We are working very, very closely with Japan, it has been supportive since early days."

He also reiterated calls for ASEAN governments as well as other countries to act against the junta's business interests. Countries like Singapore, for example, known to be a favored offshore banking center for senior junta members, should follow the spirit of the ASEAN consensus that opposes the military takeover and freeze bank accounts, he said.

Businesses in ASEAN countries that are invested in Myanmar, particularly Singaporean and Thai businesses, should withhold all payments to the junta, Sasa said.

"For the time being, unless military generals stop killing the people, [and] withdraw the gunmen from the streets in the country, please do not give the money to them," said Sasa.

As part of a massive resistance movement which has brought the government apparatus and the banks to a halt, protesters are calling on businesses to support the tax boycott in a bid to deny the junta resources and money.

Singapore and Thailand are among the top foreign investors in Myanmar, alongside China, Japan, the U.K. and South Korea.

For example, Sasa said, after the parallel government sets up bank accounts in Thailand, he would ask Thai businesses in Myanmar to pay their taxes to those accounts. Doing so means those investors are transferring money "to the Myanmar people through the people of Myanmar's government, that is NUG."

Otherwise, they should temporarily keep their money and tell the junta that "we are told by our government not to give the money now. Our hands are tied," Sasa said.