divided, ASEAN appoints Brunei diplomat as special envoy

They will have needed three and a half months to come to an agreement. The ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Wednesday (August 4) appointed Erywan Yusof, deputy foreign minister of Brunei, as special envoy to Burma. The appointment comes two days after a virtual meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers, as Burma sinks deeper into chaos every day since the military junta’s coup on 1is February.

→ ANALYSIS. Six months after coup, Burma plunges into civil war

Erywan Yusof est “A recognized diplomat within ASEAN”, specifies David Camroux researcher at the International Research Center (Ceri) of Sciences Po Paris and specialist in Burma. The diplomat from Brunei – the state which presides over the organization this year – has a mission to work for a de-escalation of violence. The man knows the file well: he had already gone there on June 4 to meet Min Aung Hlaing, head of the junta, still admitted to the meetings of the organization.

Internal divisions

This appointment is indicative of internal divisions within ASEAN as to the attitude to adopt in the face of the Burmese case.. The junta’s preference initially fell on Virasak Fukratul, Thailand’s former ambassador to Burma in the 1990s, when the junta was already in power. This option was supported by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, regimes lenient towards the Tatmadaw – the nickname of the Burmese army – and supporters of a soft diplomatic approach.

→ READ. In Burma, bishops invite all believers to interfaith prayer campaign

Opposite, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia defended the appointment of Hassan Wirajuda, former Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs. These three countries, much more critical of the Burmese military, “Pushed for the adoption of a stronger position”, commented on Twitter Aaron Connelly, country specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

“The choice of Erywan Yusof is the result of a compromise”, David Camroux analyzes. The appointment of an envoy was one of the five points of the consensus reached between the ten member states (1) on April 24. Time was running out for the organization, under pressure from the international community. “This appointment does not bother anyone and allows ASEAN to show that it is dealing with the situation”, continues the researcher.

Principle of non-interference

Divided, ASEAN does not show any real desire to influence the current events in Burma. The countries which put up with the junta assert the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the member states, a fundamental principle of the organization.

→ EXPLANATION. In Burma, the people’s resistance to repression

The credibility of a diplomat from Brunei in defending a process of easing tensions also raises questions. “It is disturbing to see that an absolute monarchy which does not respect human rights is responsible for convincing a criminal army to respect these principles”, quipped Kasit Piromya, former Thai foreign minister, now a member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

The new emissary will have “Access to all parties concerned”, ensures the press release published Wednesday, August 4 by ASEAN. But, here again, doubts remain. “No mention is made of Aung San Suu Kyi or other leaders of the National League for Democracy”, notes David Camroux. The organization is not calling for the release of political opponents, after 5,400 people have been put behind bars in the past six months in Burma. Under these conditions, the researcher regrets that the special envoy does “Nothing more than figuration”. The junta has little to fear.

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