Diplomats: ASEAN waiting on Myanmar approval of envoy

In this April 22, 2021, file photo, flags of some of the ASEAN member countries fly at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia. Southeast Asia’s top diplomats were meeting Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, to appoint a special envoy to help deal with the political crisis and violence gripping Myanmar and finalize an emergency plan to help control a coronavirus outbreak that many fear is spiraling out of control in the military-ruled nation. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana, File)
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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Southeast Asia’s top diplomats have tentatively chosen a special envoy to help deal with the violent political crisis gripping Myanmar but must wait on approval from the military-ruled nation’s leaders before announcing it, two diplomats said Tuesday.

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations want to designate Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof as special envoy to Myanmar, a decision reached in their annual meeting Monday, the two Southeast Asian diplomats said. The diplomats spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.

Myanmar did not immediately react to the choice, preventing the ministers from issuing a post-conference joint communique that would have reflected the key development, the diplomats said.

The 10-nation bloc has been under increasing international pressure to act on the troubles unfolding in Myanmar, an ASEAN member where the military in February toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The regional group, however, is hamstrung by its bedrock policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations and in its decision-making by consensus, meaning just one member state can shoot down any proposal.

The appointment of the special envoy can't be made without Myanmar's approval and it was not immediately clear why Myanmar did not respond to the proposed choice. One of the diplomats said the ASEAN ministers were pressuring Myanmar so that the work of the special envoy could commence as soon as possible.

One of the Southeast Asian diplomats said Myanmar preferred the special envoy be the candidate from Thailand, former Thai ambassador to Myanmar Virasakdi Futrakul.

Even if Myanmar were to get its preferred choice, it remains uncertain if and when the nation's military leaders would allow access to Suu Kyi, who has been detained with other political leaders and put on trial for a slew of charges, said the diplomats.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will join ASEAN's online ministerial meetings this week, and two senior state department officials said he will urge member nations to hold Myanmar's military leaders accountable and appoint an envoy who will push the military to end the violence, release those detained and restore democratic governance.

The officials said the military takeover had impacted all of ASEAN and threatened stability in the region. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak on the record.

Indonesian Foreign Secretary Retno Marsudi said after Monday’s meeting that if Myanmar would not respond to ASEAN’s calls, her country will continue to voice its concerns.

“We will not remain silent about the suffering of the Myanmar people,” she told reporters by video.

More than 900 people have been killed by Myanmar authorities since the February takeover, many in anti-government protests, according to a tally kept by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Casualties are also rising among the military and police as armed resistance grows in both urban and rural areas.

ASEAN leaders held an emergency meeting in Indonesia in April and called for an end to the violence and the start of a dialogue among contending parties to be mediated by an ASEAN envoy. The high-level meeting was attended by Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing.

On Sunday, Min Aung Hlaing repeated his pledge to hold fresh elections in two years and cooperate with ASEAN on finding a political solution. He said without elaborating that Myanmar “is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework, including the dialogue with the ASEAN special envoy in Myanmar.”

Myanmar’s troubles have deepened with its worst coronavirus surge, which has overwhelmed its crippled health care system.

The ministers ordered the ASEAN’s disaster-response center to urgently arrange the delivery of humanitarian aid, which Myanmar has requested. Myanmar officials were discussing the possible delivery of aid with ASEAN’s secretary-general although no date has been set, one diplomat said.

Aside from Myanmar, ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The ministerial meetings this week include the ASEAN Regional Forum, a security conference where North Korea attends along with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

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Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press journalists Matthew Lee in Washington, Kiko Rosario in Manila, Philippines, and Niniek Karmini and Fadlan Syam in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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