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Rights group hits ASEAN for refusing UN envoy from attending meeting on Myanmar

The meeting addressed plans to deliver humanitarian aid and administer COVID-19 vaccines to Myanmar, Cambodia's foreign ministry said in statement

A group of parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia slammed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for not allowing a UN envoy to attend a meeting that discussed issues on Myanmar.

“ASEAN should not give an illegal junta the power to veto people who are working towards finding a solution to the crisis in Myanmar,” read a statement from Charles Santiago, chairperson of the group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

Santiago said it is a “disgrace” that the UN Secretary General’s special envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, could not attend the consultative meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar in Phnom Penh on Friday, May 6.

Myanmar has reportedly opposed the attendance of Heyzer in the meeting.

The meeting addressed plans to deliver humanitarian aid and administer COVID-19 vaccines to Myanmar, Cambodia’s foreign ministry said in statement.

“The meeting hosted by Cambodia was a clear attempt to legitimize aid delivery by the Myanmar military, an institution with a long history of weaponizing aid distribution,” said Santiago.

“We have noted with grave concern that areas singled out for assistance are being subjected to the junta’s scorched-earth military campaigns, and it is extremely difficult to believe that the perpetrators of all kinds of atrocities against the Myanmar people will deliver aid to them in an impartial and effective manner,” he added.

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The Malaysian legislator said that ASEAN should “step up the pressure on the Myanmar military to make sure that the aid the Myanmar people so badly need is not weaponized.”

The country of 54 million people, ASEAN’s poorest per capita, has been engulfed in political turmoil as well as military conflict since the Feb. 1, 2021, military coup that overthrew the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi three moths after her party won re-election by a landslide.

“Today we are taking another step forward in our collective endeavor to ensure that the people of Myanmar will have access to humanitarian assistance without discrimination,” Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn posted on Facebook.

“As the ASEAN Chair’s Special Envoy, I remain optimistic that our persistent efforts will genuinely benefit the people of Myanmar,” he added.

Cambodia is the current rotating chair of the 10-member ASEAN.

In a video conference on May 1, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the Myanmar junta chief, Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, to allow the special envoy to visit and meet deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and take other steps to implement a five-point agreement the military leader reached between ASEAN’s foreign ministers in April 2021.

Although the military regime in Naypyidaw agreed with ASEAN on humanitarian aid and the creation of the special envoy, little concrete progress has been made on more challenging parts of the five-point agreement, including an end to violence, talks among all parties in Myanmar, and mediation by the envoy.

The junta on May 3 poured cold water on calls from Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah last month for ASEAN talks with Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel, civilian administration formed of ousted lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, prominent civil servants, and ethnic minority leaders.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted the junta’s foreign ministry as saying it “protests and rejects” the Malaysian foreign minister’s remarks, because “they could abet terrorism and violence in the country, hampering the Myanmar Government’s anti-terrorism efforts and infringe international agreements related to combatting terrorism.”

The junta has branded opponents of military rule as terrorists. The military regime has jailed Aung San Suu Kyi among thousands of political prisoners and killed 1,800 people, mostly anti-coup protesters.

The 76-year-old Nobel laureate has been sentence to 11 years in jail on various charges, and faces other charges that could land her in prison for more than a century. Her supporters and human rights groups reject the charges as baseless and designed to end her political career. – with an RFA report

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