Malaysian foreign minister meets Burmese opposition figure

BANGKOK (AP) — The foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow government, which opposes the military council that rules the strife-torn Southeast Asian nation, on Sunday called a meeting Sunday “productive.” she had with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Saturday’s meeting in Washington was the first publicly acknowledged occasion where a ministerial official from one of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had one-on-one talks with a counterpart in Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government.

NUG Foreign Minister Zin Mar Aung said on Twitter that her “productive meeting” with Saifuddin discussed “the dire situation in Myanmar and how the NUG and Malaysia can work together to restore peace. and democracy in Myanmar, including humanitarian aid and support for refugees from Myanmar.”

Their meeting, described as “informal”, took place on Saturday against the backdrop of the ASEAN-United States summit on Thursday and Friday. ASEAN foreign ministers held their own meeting ahead of the summit.

Myanmar is a member of ASEAN, but has been unwilling to implement the regional grouping’s plan to try to restore peace in the country where the military seized power last February toppling the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Opposition to military rule is widespread, and some UN experts have characterized the country as currently in a state of civil war.

The military’s failure to follow the plan, which was proposed last year, led fellow ASEAN members to bar Myanmar’s leaders last October from attending key meetings of the regional grouping. The military government rejected invitations to have a non-political official attend instead.

Saturday’s meeting is a minor breakthrough for the NUG, which has unsuccessfully sought international diplomatic recognition. It was established by elected legislators who were denied their seats by the military takeover, considers itself the legitimate government of the country and enjoys broad public support. The country’s military leaders, however, have officially designated it an illegal terrorist organization and refuse to engage with it.

Saifuddin tweeted on Saturday that he had met with Zin Mar Aung “to express Malaysia’s support and solidarity with the people of Myanmar and stands ready to work to restore peace and democracy in Myanmar.”

They discussed challenges such as “humanitarian aid, technical training and education for refugees from Myanmar”, he added.

The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Myanmar but has diplomatic and economic sanctions against its military leaders. The head of the military government, Chief General Min Aung Hlaing, was not invited to the Washington summit.

Zin Mar Aung met with US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman last week. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Sherman “underlined the strong support of the United States for the people of Burma in the face of the regime’s brutal crackdown and pledged to continue to provide support to all those working peacefully to restore Burma’s path to inclusive democracy”.

US officials refer to Myanmar by its former name Burma, which was changed by a previous military government.

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