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UN chief delayed ASEAN meeting to avoid Myanmar army envoy

Revelation On Guterres Decision Comes As ASEAN Prepares To Hold Emergency Meeting Amid Frustration At Military’s Failure To Implement Peace Plan.

Screenshot 2021-10-16 001218
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres postponed a virtual meeting wtih ASEAN at the last minute to avoid the Myanmar regime's foreign minister [File: Justin Lane/Pool via AP Photo]

UN chief Antonio Guterres asked to postpone a virtual meeting with Southeast Asian ministers at the last minute to avoid signalling any recognition of Myanmar’s military government by being in the same online room as the military’s envoy, United Nations diplomats have said.

The meeting between the UN secretary-general and foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – including Wunna Maung Lwin, the foreign minister appointed by the military – had been due to take place last Friday.

But the day before, Guterres asked ASEAN to postpone the meeting “until a time when it can be held in a mutually agreeable format, in view of the ongoing urgent international and regional issues”, according to an October 8 note from ASEAN chair Brunei – seen by the Reuters news agency – notifying members of the delay.

UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Guterres did not want to get ahead of a decision by UN member states on who will sit in Myanmar’s seat at the world body after rival claims were made by the military and Kyaw Moe Tun, the current UN ambassador who was appointed by the elected government.

The generals seized power on February 1, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected government leaders on the day the new parliament was due to convene. United Nations credentials give weight to a government.

News of Guterres’s reluctance to be seen at the same meeting as a military envoy comes as ASEAN foreign ministers are due to hold a special meeting on Friday to discuss excluding coup leader and military chief Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming summit, amid mounting frustration over the ruling military’s failure to comply with a road map for peace that was drawn up six months ago.

ASEAN agreed on a five-point consensus with Min Aung Hlaing in April, but the generals have made no progress in its implementation and have also ruled out allowing a regional envoy, Brunei’s second foreign affairs minister, Erywan Yusof, to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

 The military was supposed to end its crackdown on opponents to the coup under April’s five-point consensus but violence continues [File: AP Photo]

It also continues to crack down on those opposed to its rule, with at least 1,171 people killed since the power grab and more than 7,000 people arrested, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The army has also been accused of attacks in ethnic minority areas in the country’s border regions that have forced thousands to flee, as well as targetting churches and Christian clergy.

The meeting is due to start online at 11:00 GMT and the military’s foreign minister is expected to attend.

Some of ASEAN’s 10 members, including the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, have said Min Aung Hlaing should be barred from the summit, which is scheduled to start on October 26, given the military’s failure to make progress on the peace plan.

The group, which admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997 during a previous military dictatorship, usually makes decisions on the basis of consensus.

In an open letter released on Wednesday, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a group of regional lawmakers, urged ASEAN not to invite the regime to the summit because of its “blatant disregard” for the five-point consensus.

“A lack of decisiveness and consequences for the military’s total contempt for the ASEAN leaders’ agreement risks undermining the bloc’s legitimacy as a key regional player that can bring peace and stability,” said the letter, which was also signed by dozens of other civil society groups and activists.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the continuing turmoil in Myanmar with Erywan in a call on Thursday.

The two “expressed concern over the violence and deteriorating crisis” in the country and the need for the military to end violence, release those unjustly imprisoned and restore the country’s transition to democracy.

“They also reaffirmed the need to hold the Burmese regime accountable to the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus and facilitate a meaningful visit by Erywan to Burma to include engagements with all stakeholders,” the State Department said in a statement released after the call.

Friday’s previously unscheduled virtual meeting will be hosted by Brunei, the current ASEAN chair, multiple sources based in ASEAN member countries, including diplomats and government officials, told Reuters.

A UN committee, which includes Russia, China and the United States, is due to meet next month to consider Myanmar’s competing credential applications.

The military has put forward Aung Thurein as its candidate for Myanmar’s UN seat.