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After months of failed talks, ASEAN under pressure to appoint envoy

·2 min read

By Tom Allard, Panu Wongcha-um and Ain Bandial

Aug 1 (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are under pressure to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar this week after months of negotiations have failed to find a consensus candidate.

Six months after the military toppled Myanmar's democratically elected government, ASEAN foreign ministers meet on Monday, when diplomats say they aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.

The United Nations, China and the United States, among others, have identified the Southeast Asian bloc, whose 10 members include Myanmar, as best placed to lead diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar.

The Southeast Asian nation has been racked by a deadly crackdown on protests, economic collapse and a refugee exodus since the coup. A surge in coronavirus infections has overwhelmed Myanmar's health system, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the past month.

The search for a special envoy began in April, when ASEAN leaders produced a "five-point consensus" to tackle the turmoil in Myanmar.

The U.N and U.S. have both urged ASEAN to expedite appointment of the special envoy in recent weeks.

The second minister for foreign affairs of Brunei, Erywan Yusof, said on Friday night he hoped a final decision would be made on Monday. Brunei is chair of ASEAN this year.

"Without the envoy leading the way, it is very difficult" to address the situation in Myanmar, he said.

ASEAN - whose members include democracies, one-party communist states and authoritarian governments - has been deeply divided on the envoy, and discussed appointing more than one to break the deadlock.

Four regional diplomatic sources said Erywan was favoured to become envoy and be assisted by "advisers". But a meeting of senior ASEAN officials on Thursday failed to reach agreement, they said.

As well as the nine other ASEAN members, Myanmar's military regime will have to approve the appointment, they said.

"Myanmar is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework including the dialogue with the ASEAN special envoy in Myanmar," the leader of the country's ruling military, Min Aung Hlaing, told a news conference on Sunday.

A spokesman for Myanmar's National Unity Government which opposes the military junta, Sasa, said the envoy must "put the people of Myanmar front and centre".

"Anything that can help alleviate the people's suffering is welcome," he said.

Erywan publicly confirmed he was one of four candidates. Diplomats said the others were Thailand's deputy foreign minister Weerasak Footrakul, former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda and veteran Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.

ASEAN will also announce a proposal to provide aid to Myanmar, including support to combat the pandemic, diplomats said. (Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta, Panu Wonngcha-un in Bangkok and Ain Bandial in Bandar Seri Begawan; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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