myanmar junta rejects suggestion that asean engage shadow government - Myanmar Junta Rejects Suggestion that ASEAN Engage Shadow Government

Myanmar’s military junta has rejected a Malaysian proposal that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) informally engage Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), describing the suggestion as “irresponsible and reckless.”

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah aired the idea to reporters last week, in the course of lamenting that there had been “no progress” on the implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus for the resolution of Myanmar’s conflicts.

“We are not proposing for ASEAN to recognize other governments, but such informal engagement may be conceivable, especially on how humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar who are still in their country can be delivered,” he said.

Saifuddin said that he was making the proposal due to the military’s foot-dragging on the implementation of ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus peace plan, which calls for a cessation of violence, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the opening of political dialogue involving “all parties” to the country’s conflict.

In comments from the junta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that were carried by the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar, the coup government said that it “protests and rejects” Saifuddin’s remarks, which it said “could abet terrorism and violence in the country, hampering the Myanmar government’s anti-terrorism efforts, and infringe international agreements related to combating terrorism.”

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“The Ministry cautions the government officials and parliamentarians of Malaysia against making contacts or communication as well as providing support and assistance to those terrorist groups and their representatives in future,” the statement read, according to The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar and its people have suffered political and economic turmoil since the military’s seizure of power in February 2021, when it overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). While the military administration has pledged to implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus, it has done little implement it, instead prioritizing its own “Five-Point Road Map,” which aims to achieve “enduring peace for the entire nation” prior to the holding of new elections.

This has been a euphemism for the use of maximum violence to defeat the NUG and the civilian militias with which it is loosely aligned, both of which the junta has officially designated “terrorist” organizations.

After more than a year in which it has not only ignored the Five-Point Consensus but actively violated both its letter and spirit, the junta is beginning to elicit increasing irritation from some Southeast Asian governments. Among the staunchest critics has been Saifuddin, who two months after taking up his post in August, warned that if the military junta continued to drag its feet on the implementation of the bloc’s peace plan, Malaysia would open relations with the shadow government. Late last month, he announced that Malaysia had already engaged with the NUG, the first time that an ASEAN leader had admitted to such contacts, though it is likely that some others have quietly done the same.

The reaction of the military administration to Saifuddin’s suggestion is predictable and consistent with its past reactions to any suggestion that foreign governments might engage with the NUG, which was formed last April by members of the overthrown NLD government and their various allies. It further reinforces the sense that it is bent on fulfilling its own “five-point” plan and eradicating the bulk of the anti-coup resistance before turning to the implementation of ASEAN’s plan, by which point it would essentially be meaningless.

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian lawmaker and chairperson of the regional advocacy group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said that the military junta’s extreme allergy to any suggestion of contacts with the NUG was “particularly outrageous” and demonstrated “the nervousness of the self-styled State Administration Council (SAC) in the face of increasing international isolation.”

“Malaysia, along with other countries, has been at the forefront of efforts within ASEAN to step up the pressure on the military, and its proposal to engage the NUG is more than welcome,” he said in a statement. “We can only hope that other ASEAN countries follow Malaysia’s lead, and ignore what an illegitimate military junta which is not only irresponsible and reckless, but also criminal, has to say about the matter.”