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Myanmar’s Pro-Democracy Camp Faults Secret Meeting With Aung San Suu Kyi 

FILE - Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai is pictured at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting of economic leaders in Bangkok, Nov. 19, 2022. He has revealed that he met with former Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on July 9.
FILE - Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai is pictured at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting of economic leaders in Bangkok, Nov. 19, 2022. He has revealed that he met with former Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on July 9.

The National Unity Government of Myanmar, led by opponents of the ruling junta, has criticized a recent meeting between Thailand's top diplomat and Aung San Suu Kyi, saying that it may complicate ASEAN's efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.

Thailand's foreign minister, Don Pramudwinai, has revealed that he met with the ousted Myanmar leader on July 9, and that she expressed her willingness to discuss with him further the issues in her war-torn country.

Zin Mar Aung, the foreign minister of the NUG, expressed her disapproval, saying the Thai minister's actions were an attempt to parallel ASEAN's role in resolving the crisis. She said the Thai official's move calls into question the existing arrangement in which Western powers and the U.N. Security Council have pushed for ASEAN to play a central role in resolving the conflict, which has escalated since a military coup in February 2021.

Five-point proposal

Indonesia’s foreign minister, whose country is the current chair of ASEAN, stated at an annual meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers this week in Jakarta that ASEAN would continue to prioritize its five-point peace proposal. The proposal, developed in 2021, calls for a cessation of violence and brokered dialogue between the parties. The junta has faced widespread criticism for failing to implement its terms.

Thailand's foreign minister is the only international official who has been granted access to Suu Kyi since the coup. He assured ASEAN officials at the meeting in Jakarta that Suu Kyi was in good health.

In a statement released Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Myanmar’s military regime to “implement ASEAN’S five-point consensus” and to “support a return to democratic governance.”

For more perspectives and insights, VOA conducted an interview with the NUG's Zin Mar Aung, via Zoom, on Thursday. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VOA: Did Thailand's foreign minister discuss his secret trip to Myanmar with the NUG? According to multiple media outlets, he briefed his ASEAN colleagues about his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday in Myanmar during the bloc's foreign ministers' meeting in Jakarta. Has the NUG approached him directly about these matters?

Zin Mar Aung, NUG foreign minister: No. We didn’t receive any direct communication from the Thai foreign minister regarding his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. The NUG has attempted to contact both the foreign minister and the Thai special envoy on Myanmar, but have received absolutely no response. We have often attempted diplomatic communication with Thailand's foreign minister on issues such as Myanmar's refugee crisis and the arrest and detention of migrant workers. The Thai foreign ministry has yet to respond to the NUG officially on any of these issues but continues to communicate with the junta regularly.

VOA: According to Japan’s Kyodo News, Aung San Suu Kyi told the minister that she supports "dialogue without any preconditions" to address her country's ongoing issues. What is NUG's opinion on this?

Zin Mar Aung: The first thing I'd want to point out is that the Thai foreign minister's comments about conveying Aung San Suu Kyi's views are inherently one-sided. She is a political prisoner with no freedom to communicate with the outside world. There were only two people at the meeting, so we have to take only his word for what was said. That is why we are skeptical that the Thai foreign minister or the junta would accurately convey messages from her that don’t fit their agenda.

VOA: How does this meeting affect the NUG?

Zin Mar Aung: The main issue is, due to the Thai foreign minister's visit, both ASEAN and the international community have become more confused when dealing with the Myanmar issue. Thailand stated that because it is Myanmar's ASEAN neighbor, it bears greater responsibility for the Myanmar issue. However, they actually try to go around the five-point consensus, rather than helping to implement it. Thailand's parallel track, outside of official channels, violates the ASEAN common agreement. Western countries and Myanmar's neighbors, such as India and China, have pushed for ASEAN centrality in resolving Myanmar's problems. NUG also have criticisms of the ASEAN, and we feel that ASEAN alone is no longer enough; however, the Thai foreign minister’s actions only serve to weaken it further.

VOA: Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, while attending the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting, stated that he would focus on attempting to end the crisis in Myanmar. However, there is also focus on the South China Sea dispute between China and ASEAN countries. So, do you think the U.S. is effectively putting pressure on ASEAN on the Myanmar issue?

Zin Mar Aung: I must respond that it is ineffective. In the case of Myanmar, there is an ASEAN centrality policy that states that only ASEAN should take the lead in addressing the issue. It arose because powerful countries do not want to conflict with one another on the Myanmar issue. They went to ASEAN to avoid their conflicts. The Myanmar issue is simply one of several for world powers and ASEAN members. There are also regional issues, such as the South China Sea problem. There are also Indo-Pacific concerns to consider. For the U.S., Myanmar is simply a small component of their overall strategy; similarly, exerting pressure on ASEAN is only a small element of their overall strategy. As a result, the United States cannot exert significant pressure on ASEAN.