Myanmar’s government-in-exile, known as the National Unity Government (NUG), on Friday prepared to open its first-ever office in Washington to reach out to U.S. officials, international diplomats and the local community.
NUG’s foreign minister, Zin Mar Aung, told VOA the office aims to promote communication between the shadow government and a wide range of interests.
“We aim to work with [the] U.S. closely and effectively as well as the Burmese community in the U.S.,” the foreign minister said, emphasizing the goal is “to be effective in our diplomatic channel.”
She noted that NUG has representatives in other countries, notably Australia and South Korea.
NUG is a parallel government formed by ousted Myanmar officials and some ethnic leaders who oppose the country’s military government and back the armed resistance movement fighting it.
Priscilla Clapp, a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told VOA the opening of the office in the U.S. capital “is a big deal,” and she pointed out that “it signifies intensifying engagement of the NUG with the U.S.”
The opening of the NUG office in Washington is a small shift in the U.S. government’s engagement with the NUG, according to Michael Haack, campaign manager at the Campaign for a New Myanmar. “Though I have seen people in the U.S. government increasingly warming to the NUG, there is still a lot of work to do. That is why I am happy to see they have opened this office.”
Clapp, who served as chief of mission and permanent charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Burma from 1999 to 2002, said it would be difficult for the U.S. government to give the NUG official recognition as the government of Burma.
“Diplomatic relations are toward countries, not governments, and [are] not prepare[d] to break the relationship with that country,” Clapp said.
There also was an office of the previous Burmese exiled government, known as the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, or NCGUB, in Washington 20 years ago. But this time the NUG has more opportunities to exert influence, said Clapp.
“The NCGUB didn't have the wide popular support and determination that this resistance has developed. This rebellion is very serious - I mean it is a sustained revolution that has overtaken most of the country. This has not happened with previous rebellions,” Clapp underscored.
NUG announced armed resistance against the military junta last September, backed by some ethnic militias.
A recent report by former U.N. officials serving on a special advisory council on Myanmar estimated the junta has lost control of more than half the country.
The Myanmar junta has labeled NUG as a terrorist group. It also rejected the advisory council report as “baseless.”
Myanmar’s military launched a coup in February 2021, declaring a state of emergency and detaining members of the democratically elected government. The junta declared that the 2020 election that put the country’s civilian leaders in power was invalid and pledged to hold a new election at the end of the state of emergency.
Since then, the state of emergency has continued, and thousands of people are believed to have been killed in clashes between the military and the resistance movement.
Myanmar Shadow Civilian Government Opens Office in Washington