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Myanmar Coup

Myanmar junta chief meets UN special envoy in Jakarta

ASEAN chair considers former Indonesian foreign minister for Myanmar portfolio

Myanmar junta chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is noncommital toward a request from U.N. special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener to visit the country. (Source photos by Reuters and AP)

BANGKOK -- The United Nations special envoy for Myanmar met junta chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on the sidelines of a special summit of ASEAN leaders in Jakarta on Saturday, according to senior regional diplomats.

During his conversation with Christine Schraner Burgener, the junta chief defended his Feb. 1 takeover of the country, claiming massive fraud in elections in November. During the talks, the U.N. envoy requested permission to visit Myanmar, but there was no immediate answer on whether the junta would grant her access, according to ASEAN sources.

Schraner Burgener declined to comment on the meeting.

The former Swiss ambassador to Thailand and Germany also met the foreign ministers of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, among others, in separate meetings before leaving Indonesia for Thailand. She is likely to stay in Southeast Asia for further meetings in the coming days.

Regional diplomats with knowledge of the meeting said they were "encouraged" by the junta chief's agreement to meet the special envoy and to attend the ASEAN meeting. They rejected charges by critics that the invitation had helped to "legitimize" the regime, which has been responsible so far for the deaths of more than 750 civilians, the arrests of at least 4,470, and the detentions of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and other government leaders.

Schraner Burgener has been ready to visit the Southeast Asian country for weeks. On arriving in Bangkok from her home base in Switzerland on April 9, she tweeted: "I regret that Tatmadaw answered me yesterday that they are not ready to receive me. I am ready for dialogue. Violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions."

In Myanmar, state media on Sunday portrayed Min Aung Hlaing's attendance at the summit as a diplomatic triumph, suggesting Myanmar was maintaining "close cooperation" with ASEAN member countries "in accord with the ASEAN charter."

Separately it emerged that Brunei, which currently holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is considering nominating Hassan Wirajuda, who served as Indonesia's foreign minister from 2001 to 2009, to be the chair's special envoy for Myanmar. Other ASEAN members have been notified of the proposal, but it remains unclear whether the suggestion has been accepted. It is understood that Singaporean and Thai candidates have also been proposed.

Under a five-point "consensus" plan proposed by ASEAN leaders and agreed to by Myanmar's military chief on Saturday, a special envoy of the ASEAN chair shall facilitate "mediation of the dialogue process," with the assistance of ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi. Lim is a former permanent secretary of Brunei's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

ASEAN's consensus plan also calls for the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and for all parties to exercise utmost restraint; constructive dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people; the provision of humanitarian assistance through ASEAN's AHA Centre, a body created to provide emergency relief in crises in the region; and for the ASEAN special envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar "to meet with all parties concerned."

The junta has outlawed the National Unity Government, a body created by ousted National League for Democracy lawmakers, and supporters of the anti-coup movement and Suu Kyi.

As Indonesia's foreign minister in 2009, Wirajuda, criticized Myanmar for its treatment of Rohingya Muslims after several hundred Rohingya refugees were rescued in the Andaman Sea after Thailand sent them off in motorless boats on the open sea.

Wirajuda, 72, served as foreign minister during the presidencies of Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and sat on Indonesia's council of presidential advisers from 2009 to 2014. He was a member of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (2010 to 2011), chaired by the late Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general. In addition, Wirajuda was a member of the High Level Informal Advisory Panel of the President of the 67th U.N. General Assembly.

Annan later led the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State -- which was established under the administration of Aung San Suu Kyi with the Kofi Annan Foundation -- and investigated atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in 2016 and 2017.

Before becoming foreign minister, Wirajuda was instrumental in establishing the Indonesian Commission of Human Rights and helped facilitate peace talks between the Moro Liberation Front and the Philippine government. He was a driving force in a dialogue that led to a peace agreement between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement.

Wirajuda co-founded the Indonesia School of Government and Public Policy and became editor-in-chief of Strategic Review, the Indonesian Journal of Leadership, Policy and World Affairs. Known as a strong supporter of human rights and an advocate of interfaith initiatives, he attended universities in the U.S. and U.K., including Harvard University and the University of Oxford.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, has been instrumental in convening ASEAN leaders to discuss the Myanmar crisis. President Joko Widodo on Saturday described the situation in Myanmar as "unacceptable" and said that "violence must be stopped, and democracy, stability and peace in Myanmar must be restored." His words were echoed by several other leaders at the meeting, including the leaders of Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia.

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