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ASEAN appoints Brunei diplomat as envoy to crisis-torn Myanmar

Published: Updated:

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have appointed Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs, Erywan Yusof, as special envoy to Myanmar, the group said on Wednesday.

Erywan has been tasked with ending violence in Myanmar and opening dialogue between the military rulers and their opponents in the crisis-torn country, according to a communique released after meetings on Monday and Wednesday by the bloc’s foreign ministers.

Yusof will also oversee a humanitarian aid package, although no details were announced. Instead, the communique called for the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance to start work on “policy guidance.”

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Myanmar’s military toppled a democratically elected government six months ago, plunging the country into turmoil as security forces suppressed protests, killing hundreds. The economy has collapsed and a humanitarian crisis worsened in the past month as coronavirus infections surged, overwhelming the health system.

The United Nations and many countries, including the United States and China, have urged ASEAN, whose 10 members include Myanmar, to spearhead diplomatic efforts to restore stability.

The appointment of an envoy was central to those efforts but was delayed for months amid deep divisions within ASEAN.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met virtually with ASEAN counterparts as part of a series of regional meetings he is taking part in this week, and called on the bloc to take joint action to urge the military to end the violence.

He also urged the ministers to push for Myanmar to release all those unjustly detained and restore the country’s path to democracy, a State Department statement said.

During a sometimes fractious ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Monday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi - who discussed Myanmar while launching a strategic dialogue with the United States in a meeting with Blinken on Tuesday - questioned the Myanmar military government’s status in ASEAN as it baulked at Erywan’s nomination, diplomats said.

Following further negotiations and Wednesday’s unscheduled meeting, the special envoy was confirmed.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry said the special envoy would start working soon and have “full access to all parties” in Myanmar. Many Myanmar opposition figures, including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are detained at home or in prison.

The military government’s representative also resisted requests from ASEAN members to grant humanitarian workers freedom to deliver aid to areas they believed needed it most, said two sources familiar with the talks.

Critics have accused ASEAN of conferring legitimacy on Myanmar’s military government by accepting its representatives at meetings.

But the Indonesian statement highlighted subtle changes made to the wording in the joint communique so that it “cannot be seen as an acknowledgment of the military junta.”

The Myanmar government could not be immediately reached for comment.

On Sunday, its leader, Min Aung Hlaing, announced he had been appointed prime minister and repeated a pledge to hold elections by 2023.

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