Malaysia contacts Myanmar’s shadow govt as ASEAN fails to implement 5-point consensus

Shailaja Neelakantan
Malaysia contacts Myanmar’s shadow govt as ASEAN fails to implement 5-point consensus Foreign minister of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) attend their retreat session in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Feb. 17, 2022.

Malaysia’s top diplomat has revealed he’s had contact with the Burmese shadow government, the first ASEAN country to acknowledge such an interaction, as activists lambasted the bloc on the anniversary of its failed five-point plan to restore democracy in Myanmar.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was responding Sunday to an open letter from a Southeast Asian parliamentarians’ group to the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In it, they urged the bloc to “immediately and publicly meet with the NUG” – Myanmar’s parallel, civilian National Unity Government.

“I have informally met [through virtual conference] the NUG Myanmar foreign minister and the NUCC chairman before the last ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat. Let’s meet and discuss,” Saifuddin said via Twitter, referring to a ministerial retreat that took place in a hybrid format in mid-February after being postponed from an earlier scheduled date amid reports of differences among member-states.

Myanmar’s National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) includes representatives of the NUG, civil society groups, ethnic armed organizations, and civil disobedience groups.

In the tweet, Saifuddin tagged the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), the group that sent the open letter on Sunday, the anniversary of the day when Southeast Asian leaders and the Burmese junta chief, agreed during an emergency summit to a so-called Five-Point Consensus for action on post-coup Myanmar.

Last October, Malaysia’s outspoken foreign minister had said he would open talks with the NUG if the Burmese junta kept stonewalling in cooperating with ASEAN’s conflict resolution efforts.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), the parent company of BenarNews, contacted the foreign ministry of Cambodia, this year’s ASEAN chair, for comment but did not immediately hear back.

Meanwhile, Bo Hla Tint, the NUG’s special representative to ASEAN, questioned the Southeast Asian bloc’s seriousness in solving the Myanmar crisis.

“They have failed to implement, during the past year, the basic point of the ASEAN Common Agreements – to end the violence. And then, they failed to comply with the second point – systematic distribution of humanitarian aid,” he told RFA.

“I’d say the ASEAN leadership does not take seriously the policy or framework set down by the ASEAN leadership itself, if the leaders do not take any effective action [against the junta].”

‘A five-point failure’

In Malaysia, two analysts praised Saifuddin for breaking from ASEAN and initiating separate action.

“Malaysia takes lead on call to review ASEAN’s approach to Myanmar (after a year of failed ASEAN five-point consensus), acknowledging informal meetings with NUG Myanmar,” Bridget Welsh, a political analyst with the University of Nottingham Malaysia, tweeted.

Another analyst, Aizat Khairi, a senior lecturer at Universiti Kuala Lumpur, agreed.

“Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah’s reaction to the APHR open letter is something refreshing,” he told BenarNews.

The five-point agreement reached between ASEAN’s leaders and Burmese military chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on April 24 last year included an end to violence, the provision of humanitarian assistance, an ASEAN envoy’s appointment, all-party dialogue, and mediation by the envoy.

ASEAN has not succeeded in implementing any of these points, said Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think-tank.

“I think there is no doubt every part of [the consensus] has failed, and with Cambodia as the chair and the junta increasingly backed by China, there is no way the consensus will succeed, or that ASEAN will do anything at all serious about Myanmar,” Kurlantzick told BenarNews.

“Suspend Myanmar from ASEAN until a return to democratic rule. ... But ASEAN won’t do that.”

He was referring to Beijing’s support for Naypyidaw at international forums, including at the United Nations, since Min Aung Hlaing toppled the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government on Feb. 1, 2021.  

Under ASEAN’s long-standing policy that its 10 members take all decisions collectively through consensus, if one member-state opposes a proposed move, it is shelved. And not every ASEAN member is on board with stricter action against Myanmar other than barring junta representatives from attending top ASEAN meetings, analysts have noted.

A “five-point failure” is what the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), a group of independent international experts, calls ASEAN’s consensus.

“The junta has not held to a single point of the five-point consensus. The agreement has failed and a change of course from ASEAN is needed,” SAC-M member Marzuki Darusman said in a statement issued Friday.

In fact, since joining the consensus, Min Aung Hlaing has escalated the military’s attack on the people of Myanmar, and continued to target and detain political opponents, SAC-M said. Nearly 1,800 people, mostly pro-democracy protesters, have been killed by Burmese security forces, since the coup.


This aerial photo taken by a drone shows Bin village in Mingin, a township in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, after villagers say it was set ablaze by the Burmese military, Feb. 3, 2022. [Reuters]


Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said that the flow of arms to Myanmar’s security forces needed to stop.

“These activists urgently need the support of the international community in the form of a global arms embargo to stop the Myanmar military from using weapons of warfare to kill peaceful protesters,” Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for research, said Friday.

In addition, Human Rights Watch criticized Western governments, saying that the five-point consensus had “become a pretext for governments such as the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and European Union member states to delay real action under the guise of waiting for ASEAN leadership.”

“The junta has exploited the international community’s deference to the regional bloc, which has a long record of neglecting its responsibility to protect the people of Southeast Asia under its principles of noninterference and consensus,” HRW said.

Pro-junta group: Peace process ‘cannot be completely one-sided’

Supporters of the Burmese junta, however, said that it was moving in the right direction.

“How much can the government oblige in the bargaining for peace? … The peace process cannot be completed by one-side only,” Thein Tun Oo, executive director of Thayningha Strategic Studies, a group of former military officers, told RFA.

“The government as well as the military has declared unilateral ceasefires and made offers for peace talks. …we haven’t seen any satisfactory response from the EAOs [Ethnic Armed Organizations. Now we have a question – what does the international community want to say about that?”

But according to the ASEAN parliamentarians, Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing “has no intention whatsoever of abiding by the consensus unless he feels a strong pressure to do so.”

“Given this failure, it is time for ASEAN to move on to sanctioning him. …ASEAN’s credibility depends on its ability to act in accordance with the reality of the situation in Myanmar,” APHR said in its letter to ASEAN.

“The question … now is: will you allow the military to continue committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and threaten the human security and economic development of the region for another year?”

Nisha David and Suganya Lingan in Kuala Lumpur, and Zin Mar Win and Wai Mar Htun of the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia contributed to this report.


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