The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar was blocked by the country’s junta from attending a meeting on humanitarian assistance for the Southeast Asian nation, which has been devastated by last year’s military coup.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday held the meeting in Cambodia to discuss plans to deliver aid to Myanmar. The regime was represented by its Minister for International Cooperation Ko Ko Hlaing, the junta’s point man on provision of assistance to Myanmar.
Absent from the meeting in Phnom Penh was Noeleen Heyzer, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar.
According to the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), a group of former UN experts on Myanmar, and the group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, her attendance was blocked by the junta.
“She was invited and then disinvited,” SAC-M said in a statement.
Heyzer was appointed as United Nations special envoy on Myanmar late last year to help solve the Myanmar crisis and facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance.
The reason she was banned from the meeting was not clear, but it appears likely the move was prompted by her recent meetings with the parliamentary body of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and its relief and resettlement minister Dr Win Myat Aye to discuss issues including humanitarian assistance for Myanmar.
The regime has branded the NUG as a terrorist organization. Even international diplomats who mention the NUG are subject to junta condemnation.
When Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah proposed that ASEAN engage informally with the NUG to discuss how humanitarian aid can be distributed to the people of Myanmar, the regime rejected the remark as “irresponsible and reckless”, and warned Malaysian officials against contacting or supporting what it calls a “terrorist group”.
Heyzer has turned out to be the first international envoy to publicly engage with the NUG. Her meetings came after ASEAN was condemned for its failure to make progress on its peace plan for Myanmar. Despite the criticism, the bloc’s officials haven’t met with the shadow government, while being pressed to do so.
Calling Heyzer a crucial actor, the NUG’s Foreign Ministry on Monday said her exclusion from the meeting was yet another insult against the United Nations.
“The National Unity Government also extended its support to the UN envoy and expressed its deep appreciation for her engagement with the National Unity Government and local stakeholders on provision of ASEAN humanitarian assistance to Myanmar,” it said.
The outcomes of the consultative meeting in Phnom Penh included plans for the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) to deliver aid to areas identified by the Myanmar military junta and in coordination with the junta.
The SAC-M condemned this as flouting fundamental humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, saying it would advance the military objectives of the Myanmar junta.
The group said there are 14 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar, while an estimated 800,000 people are displaced inside the country. Most are seeking refuge from the junta’s attacks in territory along Myanmar’s borders outside the junta’s control. The junta refuses to permit cross-border aid into these areas.