Interview: Junta To Impose Strict Limits on ASEAN Envoy’s Access in Myanmar

Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun was the spokesman for Myanmar’s military before it overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1 on unproven clams of electoral fraud, and he serves is the spokesman for the junta that controls the Southeast Asian country of 54 million people. He spoke to RFA’s Myanmar Service on Tuesday about an expected visit to the country by an envoy for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and laid out strict limits on whom the emissary would be allowed to meet. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: You have said ASEAN special envoy Erywon Yusof will not be allowed to see State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi as she is currently facing corruption charges. Has it been confirmed? Is this Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s stance on this issue?

Zaw Min Tun: This case is nothing unusual. You can see former presidents or prime ministers or politicians in other countries face legal prosecution under corruption charges. Or serving prison terms. I want to ask you here: Have you ever heard about these people being allowed by respective governments to meet international mediators or teams when asked? Aung San Suu Kyi is right now facing several charges. I don't need to elaborate. You asked me if it was because of Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s stance. Everything is carried out in the country under the State Administration Council’s (SAC’s) leadership. The decisions are made by the SAC.

RFA: Among the five points agreed between Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and ASEAN, one point recommends talks between all concerned parties. Mr. Yusof, on his appointment as special envoy, also said he would bring positive results. What kind of results can we expect from his visit if he is not allowed to see Aung San Suu Kyi?

Zaw Min Tun: We had explained to ASEAN leaders at the summit attended by our Prime Minister all events that had taken place. The 54th ASEAN ministers meeting was held on Aug. 2, and Brunei’s deputy foreign minister proposed three candidates for the special envoy post. Myanmar submitted a former Thai deputy foreign minister as a candidate, but there were objections. And we reached an agreement on Aug. 4 to appoint the Brunei foreign minister as ASEAN mediator with three conditions. We requested the special envoy to carry out his work in line with the five recommendations and not to make new requests, to respect our sovereignty and equality, and not to interfere in our internal affairs. For our part, we will allow the envoy to meet with those concerned in the legal field. I have never heard of any governments allowing foreign delegates to meet with a person under trial or a person or representatives of illegal organizations, except in very special circumstances. We have been working in accord with standard procedures.

RFA: So what can our people expect from his mission?

Zaw Min Tun: ASEAN is a group of Southeast Asian nations. It is a nations’ association or a group of nations, not governments. Like I said at previous news conferences, it’s not a government association. It doesn’t need to have a certain government in Myanmar to be a member. You can be a member nation with any government in power. ASEAN has worked in cooperation and has reached a level recognized by the world because of its principles and policies. Because all ASEAN decisions are based on consensus. There are differences on certain issues among member nations but the group works on issues that all could agree on. Issues that could be beneficial for the development of the members. That’s why we have respect for ASEAN. Myanmar’s people have also benefited from our membership.

RFA: So Mr. Yusof will not be seeing Aung San Suu Kyi because she’s under trial, as you said. Yesterday the Malaysian foreign minister said Myanmar will not be allowed to attend the forthcoming meeting if its envoy is not allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi. So will you make any changes to your decision?

Zaw Min Tun: This is just his personal remark. It’s not ASEAN’s stance, because it would need a consensus. Myanmar became a member of ASEAN in 1997 after overcoming various obstacles. Not only us. Some member nations also had to face some kind of opposition. That’s because of political reasons. ASEAN is a group of nations with different political systems that work for trade, cultural and peace in the region. So the remarks you mentioned have to be taken as just personal remarks.

RFA: How would it affect our country if Myanmar is not allowed to attend the meeting?

Zaw Min Tun: Apart from some criticisms in the international community, there won’t be any. There might be more or less, some repercussions on certain ASEAN projects or meetings or work being carried out in conjunction with other countries.

RFA: ASEAN is pushing for dialogue to find a solution. Do you still have a path to dialogue open?

Zaw Min Tun: The dialogue they are talking about has certain limitations that were meant to pressure Myanmar by some countries and organizations. By limitations I mean personal, organization and time. The dialogue we need for our country is far deeper than what they are saying. What they want is to meet persons under trial, to meet with representatives of National Unity Government and People’s Defense Force, both of which we have declared illegal organizations. These are personal limitations. What we mainly need is a dialogue to find a solution to peace issues which is still elusive since independence in 1948. We are now working on a path to a dialogue aimed for the 75th anniversary of Armed Forces Day in 2022. It would be very difficult for us to hold talks with those from groups we have declared illegal. We will only have a dialogue with them after they drop all acts of terror and speech they are currently committing.

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