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US Should Appoint Special Envoy To Myanmar, Former Ambassador Says

July 23, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
Protesters march holding slogans during a protest at Pazundaung township in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday July 14, 2021. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON- The U.S. should appoint a special envoy for the devolving situation in Myanmar, a former U.S. ambassador to the country said on Thursday morning. 

“We’re seeing, little by little and step by step, in slow motion, the collapse of the country, and it’s going to have an impact on the entire region,” former ambassador and current president of the National Democratic Institute, Derek Mitchell, said.

While the U.S. listed Myanmar, which it still calls Burma in official communications, in its Weisel genocide report as a continuing area of concern, it has not yet appointed a special envoy to handle the situation.

Mitchell argued that doing so would send “a signal of specific, focused interest.”

Mitchell believes that such pressure could cause members of the military who aren’t in favor of the coup to “think differently.”

Although that is not a “silver bullet” it would be useful in focusing international pressure on the military junta that is in control, he argued.

“We should be finding extra-urgency now for an intervention,” Mitchell said on Thursday, “And if not now, when? And if not Burma, then where?”

A coup d’état had ousted Aung San Suu Kyi, the former Nobel prize winner who was accused of committing genocide against the Rohingya, in February. It was the first in the country since 1988, though the country has seen many military takeovers in its history, according to a historical note from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since February, a military junta has ruled over the country, causing displacement and insecurity, attacking civilians, resulting in banking disruptions and mass displacement, and making the population more vulnerable to COVID-19, according to experts on a Brookings Institution panel with Mitchell.

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to call for an arms embargo in June.

In addition to supporting the resolution and agitating for a return to democratic rule, the U.S. has responded with sanctions against Myanmar.

University of Washington associate professor of International Studies, Mary Callahan, said that calls to return to democratic rule are historical revisionism, adding that the military, which she says has not had a significant split since 1949, has never been under civilian control.

Protests against the junta initially expected it to only last for a matter of months but it will likely last for years, Aye Min Thant, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and features editor for Frontier Myanmar, said at the event on Thursday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an economic coalition of 10 Southeast Asian countries, has pushed the junta to enter dialogues and is in the process of appointing a special envoy.

The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken prevailed on foreign ministers from ASEAN during a meeting earlier this month to act swiftly to end the violence in Myanmar and to restore democratic governance.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow for Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, warned that the international community should not go ahead of the ASEAN.

The best role for the U.S., he argued, would be to support their efforts, by giving funding to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the region, for example, while the association attempts to spur dialogues. International actors working together will lead to the best results, he said.

Thant pointed out that the Myanmar people are critical of the ASEAN because they perceive it as lacking urgency in its response to the situation and they say that they have not been included equally in deciding the future of the country.

The speakers were members of a panel for Brookings Institution about the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, held on Thursday and viewable here

Despite some disagreements, members of the panel appeared to agree that the crisis in the country is important, urgent, will have far-reaching implications for the region, and needs an international response.

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