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ASEAN envoy: Myanmar aid delivery forges ahead

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Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn (centre) and regional officials at the Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar, in the capital on Friday. MFAIC

ASEAN envoy: Myanmar aid delivery forges ahead

Foreign minister and ASEAN Special Envoy on Myanmar Prak Sokhonn has said that progress is being made on work to deliver humanitarian assistance to Myanmar, but conceded that “many obstacles” remain.

Sokhonn made the remark while leading a high-level consultative meeting on May 6, initiated by Cambodia to discuss ways to deliver humanitarian assistance to Myanmar, attended by regional diplomats and non-governmental partners, and representatives from Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council (SAC).

Diplomats and partners in attendance included ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya, and senior officials from ASEAN member states and UN Specialised Agencies.

The Myanmar delegation was led by Ko Ko Hlaing, SAC-appointed Minister of International Cooperation and Chairman of the Myanmar Task Force, and represented by Minister of Health Aye Tun; Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Aung Tun Khaing, and officials from several ministries.

The meeting focused on three topics: addressing the operational challenges of the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Delivery Arrangement Framework, and framework for Covid-19 vaccine administration in Myanmar, according to a press release issued by Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation following the meeting.

It said the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) has identified regions in which to implement the delivery assistance framework, in consultation with the Myanmar Task Force. They include Kayah, Kayin, Magway, Saigang and Bago.

“The AHA Centre will facilitate requests for access [to humanitarian aid] through this delivery arrangement, and will propose a list of potential implementing partners,” the statement said.

It added that the Myanmar Task Force had “agreed to do its utmost” to expedite the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and urged the AHA Centre and implementing partners to provide required documents in advance to further aid swift deliveries.

“The meeting welcomed the Myanmar Task Force’s commitments to allow the AHA Centre to conduct the Joint Needs Assessment and implement Phase 2 in hard-to-reach areas,” the statement said.

With regard to Covid-19 vaccinations for the people of Myanmar, the statement said the AHA Centre and Myanmar’s health ministry had agreed to implement the Joint MOH-Partners Vaccination in Hard-to-Reach Areas Framework.

This framework has retained an equal number of operational teams from both the Myanmar health ministry and non-governmental partners that will be deployed to administer vaccines within communities most in need of them, the statement said.

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UN Assistant-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya (centre) attends the meeting on May 6. MFAIC

It added that the Myanmar Task Force has affirmed that it will “do its utmost” to ensure that humanitarian assistance and vaccines provided by ASEAN and its partners will reach all communities in Myanmar, including Ethnic Armed Organisation areas where internally displaced people have been interned, “so that no one will be left behind”.

On May 7, the National Unity Government Myanmar (NUG) – the government-in-exile – issued a statement in response to the consultative meeting. It said that it was “deeply disappointed and concerned” about the result of the meeting, adding that their engagement with ASEAN and its special envoy Sokhonn had been “ignored”.

They said the Myanmar Task Force, led by SAC’s Ko Ko Hlaing, will effectively allow the ruling body to arbitrarily select regions and states and the partners who will implement the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Delivery Framework.

“The conditions on the ground, and the people's trust deficit in the SAC, will continue to hamper urgent and effective delivery of humanitarian aid. With this, the NUG calls on ASEAN leaders and donors to utilise cross-border networks to deliver humanitarian assistance urgently, in a manner not dependent on the SAC's approval,” the NUG statement said.

“This is the only way, and has been the only way, to deliver aid to hard-to-reach areas since the failed coup.”

NUG-appointed humanitarian affairs and disaster management minister Win Myat Aye met UN Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer on May 6 to discuss cross-border humanitarian aid focusing on people-centred and localised approaches.

Speaking to the media after the meeting, Sokhonn urged all sides to put their differences aside and to focus on providing assistance to people in need.

He noted that humanitarian assistance to Myanmar has faced obstacles in the form of different conditions put in place by both the Myanmar ruling body and politicians, as well as by those outside the state, such as donor countries and agencies.

“Some countries or agencies had the intention of providing assistance to the people of Myanmar without consultation or monitoring by the host country [Myanmar],” he said.

Sokhonn noted another hurdle as being a condition originally stipulated by the SAC to tax humanitarian assistance. “But we negotiated successfully and this requirement has been removed,” he said.

The special envoy added that there remains many other obstacles in transporting assistance – including Covid-19 vaccines – to the people of Myanmar, and that there were fears such aid could be redirected by resistance groups to their forces. He claimed that these problems had been discussed and “many” of them had been solved.

Following the meeting, Sokhonn took to Facebook to declare that “another step forward had been taken in a collective endeavour” to ensure that the people of Myanmar would have fair and equitable access to humanitarian assistance.

“The Consultative Meeting on ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance to Myanmar… produced promising outcomes and directions, while adding new momentum to the implementation progress of the Five-Point Consensus.

“I remain optimistic that our persistent efforts will genuinely benefit the people of Myanmar,” he wrote.

Sokhonn added that he will embark on his second visit to Myanmar as ASEAN special envoy later this month, after his return from the ASEAN-US Special Summit in Washington, which he will be attending with Prime Minister Hun Sen this week.

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