The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been urged to “take a decisive step” to resolve the ongoing crisis in Myanmar by recognising the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and demanding the generals who seized power in February immediately halt armed violence before agreeing to any talks.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Southeast Asian parliamentarians and Myanmar opposition representatives said the 10-member group should “stop siding” with the coup leaders, and instead engage with the NUG, which they said was the “legitimate” representative of the majority of the electorate.
The NUG is Myanmar’s shadow government and includes members of the parliament returned in the November 2020 election, as well representatives from the country’s different ethnic groups, including those fighting the military. It was formed after the February 1 coup.
Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian parliament and chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), said that while his group welcomes the ASEAN’s “unprecedented and significant” decision to exclude military leader Min Aung Hlaing from the annual regional summit, “much more needs to be done” to resolve the political impasse.
Santiago said that the credibility of ASEAN was at stake if it proved unable to put more pressure on the Myanmar military to “end its relentless violence” against its own people.
“The [Myanmar] military seems to have shown total contempt of the ASEAN Leaders’ agreement,” he said, referring to the five-point agenda agreed by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other ASEAN heads of states in April to stop the violence and take necessary steps to restore the country’s democracy.
Santiago said the first step to put Myanmar back on the democratic path is for ASEAN to “meet officially and publicly with representatives of the duly elected NUG”.
ASEAN leaders have yet to respond to the most recent NUG letter demanding a dialogue with their representatives, according to Bo Hla Tint, who has been designated as the NUG ambassador to ASEAN.
He said that with the military government’s “failure” to cooperate with ASEAN, or heed international calls to stop the violence, ASEAN should instead work with the NUG to restore democracy in Myanmar.
“We will be a very responsible partner in the region. We want to be part of the ASEAN Community in a constructive way,” he said, accusing the current government of carrying out “a campaign of terror”.
“It is very obvious that the 2020 election provided the popular support and legitimacy to the NUG government. Only NUG has the legitimacy from the people to work with the regional and international community,” Bo Hla Tint said during the news conference.
Residents of Kale, Sagaing, continued their daily protests against Myanmar's military dictatorship today (Oct 26).
— Myanmar Now (@Myanmar_Now_Eng) October 26, 2021
‘ASEAN is indecisive’
At least 1,200 people have been killed in the military crackdown since the coup, according to Khin Ohmar, head of the Progressive Voice Myanmar, a pro-democracy group.
Khin Omar said the “indecisiveness” of ASEAN had brought further bloodshed in Myanmar, noting that the regional bloc still wanted to invite a representative of the military government even after the exclusion of Min Aung Hlaing.
She warned that the political crisis has already reached a “breaking point with no signs of stopping”, pointing to the military massing its troops in the country’s northern region.
“Over 250,000 been forced to flee from the junta’s attacks. The junta is also planning a new wave of operations, and this is a form of collective punishment against the people for standing up against their failed coup.
“It should be very clear to ASEAN by now, that ASEAN alone cannot tackle the crisis in Myanmar. This crisis has been created by the military, and thus working with the junta will only bring more harm to the people,” she said.
The military has justified the coup as necessary because of alleged electoral fraud – a claim that has been discredited by international election observers. The military has also said that claims of abuses and killings by security forces have been exaggerated.
Santiago said it was becoming clearer that the military had no intention of complying with ASEAN’s five-point plan.
ASEAN, he said, had “no business in legitimising Min Aung Hlaing”, and warned that the bloc should not repeat its mistake of designating a new special envoy without outlining a clear mandate on what it expects from the generals.
“Otherwise we will have a meeting next year, and we will achieve nothing.”
Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said even China has already indicated its willingness to meet members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD), the party that won an electoral landslide before it was removed.
She said that should be taken as a signal by ASEAN to “take the lead and engage with the NUG”.
For Khin Omar, the last nine months since the coup should be “a wake-up call” to ASEAN and the international community that Myanmar’s military “is not for dialogue”.
“The current crimes of military have been allowed because the military was let off the hook for the past crimes they committed,” she said.
The military first seized power in 1962 and ruled with an iron grip until 2011 when it began to allow some reforms. It has been accused of abuses against ethnic minorities in long-running conflicts in its border areas, as well as against the Rohingya in 2017 when hundreds of thousands of the mostly Muslim minority fled to Bangladesh in the wake of a brutal military crackdown that is now the subject of a genocide investigation.
For any talks to proceed, Khin Omar said, ASEAN must first demand Myanmar’s military to stop the violence.
“If we want to have a dialogue … let us make sure that this junta stop all violent attacks against Myanmar people first. This has to be minimum benchmark for whatever dialogue [to follow]. Otherwise, I don’t see a point of dialogue.”