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After months of failed talks, ASEAN under pressure to name Myanmar envoy

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers stand next to military vehicles as people gather to protest against the military coup, in Yangon

By Tom Allard, Panu Wongcha-um and Ain Bandial

(Reuters) -Foreign ministers from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are under pressure to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar this week after months of negotiations failed to find a consensus candidate.

Six months after the military toppled Myanmar's democratically elected government, ASEAN foreign ministers meet on Monday when diplomats say they will aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.

The United Nations, United States and China, among others, have identified the Southeast Asian bloc, whose 10 members include Myanmar, as best placed to spearhead diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar.

Myanmar has been racked by a deadly crackdown on protests, economic collapse and a refugee exodus since the coup. A surge in coronavirus infections has overwhelmed its health system, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the past month.

The search for a special envoy began in April, when ASEAN leaders produced a "five-point consensus" to tackle the turmoil in Myanmar. U.N. and U.S. officials have in recent weeks urged ASEAN to expedite the appointment of the special envoy.

The second minister for foreign affairs of Brunei, Erywan Yusof, said on Friday night he hoped a final decision would be made on Monday. Brunei is chair of ASEAN this year.

"Without the envoy leading the way, it is very difficult" to address the situation in Myanmar, he said.

ASEAN - whose members include democracies, one-party communist states and authoritarian governments - has been deeply divided on the envoy, and has discussed appointing more than one to break the deadlock.

Four regional diplomatic sources said Erywan was favoured to become envoy and be assisted by "advisers". But a meeting of senior ASEAN officials on Thursday failed to reach agreement, they said.

As well as the nine other ASEAN members, Myanmar's military regime will have to approve the appointment, they said.

The country's military ruler, Min Aung Hlaing, said in a speech on Sunday that Myanmar had favoured Thailand's former deputy foreign minister Virasakdi Futrakul as envoy, but "new proposals were released and we could not keep moving onwards".

"Myanmar is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework, including dialogue with the ASEAN special envoy in Myanmar," he said.

A spokesman for Sasa, Myanmar's National Unity Government that opposes the military junta, said the envoy must "put the people of Myanmar front and centre".

"Anything that can help alleviate the people's suffering is welcome," he said.

Erywan publicly confirmed he was one of four candidates. Diplomats said the others were Thailand's Futrakul, former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda and veteran Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.

ASEAN will also announce a proposal for aid to Myanmar, including support to combat the pandemic, diplomats said.

(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta, Panu Wonngcha-un in Bangkok and Ain Bandial in Bandar Seri Begawan; editing by Christopher Cushing and Mark Heinrich)

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