ASEAN envoys meet Myanmar junta leader to press for dialogue

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Anti-coup protesters display the three-finger sign of resistance during a flash mob on Thursday, June 3, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. Resistance to military rule remains widespread four months after civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was removed from power on Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo)

BANGKOK (AP) — Representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met with Myanmar’s junta leader on Friday, six weeks after an emergency regional summit on the coup in the country drew promises of progress toward a solution but produced no tangible results.

State broadcaster MRTV showed Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing meeting with Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, but provided only a broad outline of their discussions.

Earlier this week, an Indonesian diplomat said the delegation’s purpose was to seek Myanmar’s approval of an ASEAN special envoy for the crisis, who is yet to be named. He said the choice of the envoy involved both sides, making progress slow.

Friday’s meeting received a cool response from members of Myanmar’s opposition shadow government. The National Unity Government said at a rare online news conference that ASEAN should meet with them as well, not just the military.

“Any discussions, any meeting about the future of the people of Myanmar must include the people of Myanmar, (their) voices must be heard,” said spokesperson Sa Sa.

The appointment of an ASEAN envoy was one of five points agreed at the regional summit in Jakarta in April, which Min Aung Hlaing attended over the objection of opponents who said the invitation legitimized his power grab. Shortly afterward, a spokesperson for the military government said it would only allow the envoy to visit after it had achieved security and stability in the country.

The military ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, saying her party’s landslide victory in elections last November resulted from massive voter fraud. It has not produced credible evidence to back its claim.

Security forces have brutally suppressed widespread popular protests against the military takeover, firing live ammunition into crowds and carrying out waves of arrests. As of Friday, 845 people have been killed in the crackdown, according to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric in New York highlighted the impact of violence on public health workers. He said there have been at least 212 reported attacks on patients, health workers, ambulances and health care facilities, resulting in at least 14 deaths and 51 injuries since the coup.

“Our colleagues on the ground stress that hospitals are, and must remain, a place of sanctuary and unequivocal neutrality so that patients can seek care and health professionals can provide care safely and without fear,” he said.

The Jakarta summit also reached an agreement to immediately end the violence and start a dialogue between the contending parties with the help of the special envoy.

Brunei is taking the lead in negotiating with the Myanmar junta because it currently holds ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship. ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In the online news conference, Sa Sa also said the number of people’s militias taking up arms against the military government is set to rise rapidly in response to what he called a “reign of terror.”

“There will be so many more forces will appear in the coming months,” he said. “It will be out of control. That’s why we say to the international community to help us to stop this coup. We need stability in Myanmar.”

In recent weeks, civilian armed groups have appeared in several regions of the country, often using homemade weapons or old hunting rifles to engage the army and police, with some success.

Some groups of pro-democracy activists have fled to the jungles to receive combat training from battle-hardened ethnic armed groups who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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