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ASEAN Diplomats Discussing Crisis Envoy08/02 06:07


   MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Southeast Asia's top diplomats were meeting 
Monday to appoint a special envoy to help deal with the political crisis and 
violence gripping Myanmar and finalize an emergency plan to help control a 
coronavirus outbreak that many fear is spiraling out of control in the 
military-ruled nation.

   The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were 
also expected to announce after their video meeting some progress in four years 
of painstakingly slow negotiations with China to craft a nonaggression pact 
aimed at preventing conflict in the disputed South China Sea.

   The 10-nation bloc, frequently dismissed by critics as an ineffective talk 
shop, has been under increasing international pressure to act on the troubles 
unfolding in Myanmar, an ASEAN member where the military in February toppled 
the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The grouping, however, is hamstrung 
by its policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations as 
well as its requirement to reach a consensus among members.

   In Monday's online meeting the ministers were to decide who among at least 
three nominees from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia should be designated as 
the bloc's special envoy to try to broker a settlement between the country's 
ruling generals and rival parties led by Suu Kyi, a Southeast Asian diplomat 
told the Associated Press.

   Myanmar prefers the candidate from Thailand, former Thai ambassador to 
Yangon Virasakdi Futrakul, but it remains uncertain when its military leaders 
would decide to accept the envoy and if access to Suu Kyi, who has been 
detained with other political leaders and put on trial for a slew of charges, 
would be granted, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity 
because of lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly.

   More than 900 people have been killed by Myanmar authorities since the 
February takeover, according to a tally kept by the independent Assistance 
Association for Political Prisoners. Casualties are also rising among the 
military and police as armed resistance grows in both urban and rural areas.

   ASEAN leaders met in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in April and called 
for an end to the violence and the start of a dialogue among contending parties 
to be mediated by an ASEAN envoy.

   On Sunday, Myanmar's military leader Min Aung Hlaing repeated his pledge to 
hold fresh elections in two years and cooperate with ASEAN on finding a 
political solution. He said without elaborating that Myanmar "is ready to work 
on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework, including the dialogue with 
the ASEAN special envoy in Myanmar."

   Myanmar's troubles have deepened with its worst surge of the pandemic, which 
has overwhelmed its crippled health care system. Limits on oxygen sales have 
led to widespread allegations that the military is directing supplies to 
government supporters and military-run hospitals.

   In Monday's meeting, the ASEAN ministers were to looking to finalize a plan 
to bring in medicine and medical equipment to Myanmar through the regional 
bloc's disaster-response center with the military leaders' approval.

   Greg Poling, an analyst on Southeast Asia for the Center for Strategic and 
International Studies in Washington, said it's critical for ASEAN to gain 
humanitarian access in Myanmar but added that the aid would not automatically 
mean the military leaders would accede to the bloc's political demands.

   "ASEAN has no leverage with the junta," Poling said.

   In addition to Myanmar, the other ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, 
Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 
The ministerial meetings this week include the ASEAN Regional Forum, a security 
conference where North Korea attends along with the United States, China, 
Russia, Japan and South Korea.

   On the South China Sea disputes, ASEAN ministers are expected to announce 
the completion of the preamble of a "code of conduct" that the bloc has been 
negotiating with China since 2017, according to two other Southeast Asian 
diplomats who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not 
authorized to speak publicly.

   The preamble calls for adherence to international law, said the diplomats, 
who expect the next round of talks to be stormy as rival claimants China, 
Taiwan and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam tackle 
the most contentious issues.

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