Myanmar has condemned as “irresponsible and reckless” a Malaysian proposal for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to engage with the National Unity Government established by those the military removed from power in the February 2021 coup in an effort to resolve the country’s protracted political crisis.
Foreign ministers from ASEAN are due to meet later this week with little progress on Myanmar where more than 1,800 people have been killed and thousands arrested in a military crackdown amid differences within the regional grouping on how to proceed.
The military has ignored an ASEAN-led five-point consensus to end violence and resolve the crisis that it agreed to in April last year. At the time about 700 people had been killed.
Malaysia’s foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah proposed on May 1 that the regional grouping, which admitted Myanmar as a member under a previous military regime in 1997, considers informal engagement with the NUG, especially in the area of humanitarian relief.
He also suggested a doubling of humanitarian aid for the country and strengthening the role and function of ASEAN’s special envoy on Myanmar.
In a statement published in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar, the military’s foreign ministry said it protested strongly against Saifuddin’s “irresponsible and reckless” suggestions.
“Such remarks could abet terrorism and violence in the country, hampering the Myanmar Government’s anti-terrorism efforts and infringe international agreements related to combatting terrorism,” it added, noting that the generals who seized power from the elected government had declared the NUG and any groups associated with it “unlawful associations” and “terrorist groups”.
The committee representing the parliament that was overthrown by the generals announced the formation of the NUG In April 2021. It includes elected politicians, members of Myanmar’s different ethnic groups as well as anti-coup leaders.
Some members of parliament in ASEAN have also called on the regional grouping to engage directly with the NUG.
According to the GNLM statement, the ministry warned Malaysian government officials and members of parliament “against making contacts or communicating as well as providing support and assistance to those terrorist groups and their representatives in future”.
Myanmar has been in crisis since Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on February 1, 2021, triggering nationwide protests and prompting an armed rebellion against the military.
Aung San Suu Kyi has not been seen or allowed to speak in public since she was detained, and faces a slew of charges in a secretive military court. She has already been sentenced to 11 years in prison after being found guilty of charges from the illegal possession of walkie-talkies to breaching coronavirus restrictions, and on Monday went on trial in a new corruption case, according to the Associated Press news agency.
The military has not allowed ASEAN’s special envoy to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and ASEAN – in an unprecedented move – barred Myanmar’s coup leaders from their summits in 2021 and from the ASEAN foreign ministers’ retreat in Phnom Penh in February.
But the crisis has also exposed differences within ASEAN, with Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore urging a more robust response, while Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister and the grouping’s current chair, has travelled to Naypyidaw, becoming the first foreign leader to meet Min Aung Hlaing.