Envoy aborts visit to Myanmar, straining ASEAN relations

Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof canceled his visit after being informed by his hosts that he would not be able to meet all those he wanted to

October 15, 2021 08:15 am | Updated 08:15 am IST - BANGKOK

Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Pehin Yusof. File

Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Pehin Yusof. File

Myanmar's military-installed government said on October 14 that a special envoy appointed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations abruptly canceled his visit this week after it told him he would not be able to meet with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others he had proposed.

The visit’s cancellation is likely to have fueled sentiment among some members of the 10-nation regional body, known as ASEAN, to punish Myanmar for hindering the envoy’s work. Malaysia had already proposed that Myanmar’s leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, not be allowed to attend an ASEAN summit later this month.

A hastily scheduled virtual meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers will consider the issue on the night of October 15, said two Southeast Asian diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release such information.

Myanmar had agreed to allow this week's visit by the special envoy, Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, but he canceled after being informed by his hosts that he would not be able to meet all those he wanted to, said a statement issued by Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry.

The statement did not mention whom Mr. Yusof sought to meet, but he said last month that it included Aung San Suu Kyi. Her elected government was ousted by the military in February, precipitating widespread and volatile popular opposition.

Myanmar military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun had previously explained that Mr. Yusof could not meet with Ms. Suu Kyi because of the criminal charges against her.

“As Myanmar has been prioritizing peace and tranquility in the country, some requests which go beyond the permission of existing laws will be difficult to be accommodated,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

It said it “has already accommodated its best to the proposals of special envoy to enable his visit to Myanmar.”

ASEAN foreign ministers in August appointed Mr. Yusof as their envoy to help mediate an end to Myanmar’s crisis. Even before his scheduled trip, some ASEAN members had become frustrated at the perceived lack of cooperation from Myanmar’s government.

Ms. Suu Kyi has been in detention since the army takeover, and is currently being tried on several charges that her supporters and independent analysts say are contrived and an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power.

ASEAN is hamstrung by its bedrock policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member nations and by its consensus decision making, meaning just one member state can shoot down any proposal. But some members feel action is justified because major unrest in Myanmar could trigger regional instability.

ASEAN leaders at a special meeting in April issued a statement expressing a “five-point consensus” on Myanmar’s crisis. It called for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels, and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties.

Myanmar, an ASEAN member, is widely seen as doing very little to honor its commitments, though it claims to have helped facilitate humanitarian assistance.

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