Myanmar
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Malaysian FM Calls on ASEAN to Engage With Myanmar’s National Unity Govt

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (left) and the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer attend a press conference at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur in July. / AFP

Malaysia’s foreign minister on Wednesday urged member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to engage directly with the Myanmar junta’s opponents, and to bring other countries into efforts to bring peace to the military-ruled country.

During a visit to Thailand, Saifuddin Abdullah said it was of the “utmost importance” that ASEAN members morally support Myanmar’s people and engage with opposition groups formed after the coup, including the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow government that has been designated as a terrorist group by the regime.

Since the military coup last year, Myanmar has been in social and political turmoil due to the regime’s brutal crackdowns on the opposition and popular armed resistance against military rule.

ASEAN has been trying to mediate peace in the country since then by engaging only with the junta. The bloc’s efforts, however, have been criticized for making little progress. The regime has killed more than 2,000 people so far.

“Now it is one-sided, we are only engaging the junta,” said the Malaysian foreign minister.

Saifuddin said ASEAN foreign ministers discussed last week the possibility of seeking support from third-party states to help with the the bloc-led peace process.

“Some of us brought it to the table that if ASEAN cannot do it alone then we will probably have to engage some of our ASEAN dialogue partners,” he said, without naming any countries.

Among the 10 ASEAN states, Malaysia is one of the few that has been critical of the regime.

In May, Saifuddin proposed that the regional grouping, which admitted Myanmar as a member under a previous military regime in 1997, consider informal engagement with the NUG, especially in the area of humanitarian relief.

The junta’s Foreign Ministry condemned Saifuddin’s suggestion, calling it “irresponsible and reckless.”

He met his NUG counterpart Daw Zin Mar Aung on the sidelines of the US-ASEAN special summit, becoming the first minister from the bloc to meet an official from Myanmar’s shadow government publicly.

The Myanmar issue also dominated last week’s ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. In a statement following the meeting, the ministers showed their disappointment at the military junta’s lack of commitment to implementing the bloc’s peace plan, known as the Five-Point Consensus. Adopted last year, the plan calls on the regime to halt all violence in the country immediately and meet with all stakeholders to discuss ways of finding peace.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said there is a real danger that the political crisis in Myanmar could turn into a civil war, given the lack of progress on peace plans that the country has agreed with ASEAN.

“I have to be very frank. It’s very dire. I think there is a real danger that the coup is sliding into a civil war. There’s been no progress on the Asean Five-Point Consensus,” Dr. Balakrishnan said.