ASEAN's newly appointed special envoy on Myanmar is willing to take time before meeting with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying he plans to prepare well before such a meeting and will instead place priority on tackling the looming humanitarian crisis in the member country due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We have to finish a lot of the consultations first, it will take some time, and then we will have that visit" to Myanmar, said Brunei's second foreign minister, Erywan Yusof, in an interview in the sultanate on Saturday.
"It is an utmost urgency to go there but it has to be a well-prepared visit," the diplomat also said, adding, "I haven't actually formally asked" Myanmar's military authorities to be given access to Suu Kyi, who has been in detention following a coup in February that ousted her democratically elected government.
Erywan's appointment was agreed on among foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Wednesday after ASEAN leaders agreed at a special summit in Indonesia in April to a "five-point consensus" to help defuse the coup-sparked crisis in Myanmar.
The consensus calls for constructive dialogue to be started among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the Myanmar people. It also says an ASEAN special envoy shall facilitate mediation of the dialogue process.
As part of his mandate, Erywan said he aims to contact and nudge all feuding sides in Myanmar's political crisis toward dialogue. "What we want is they start dialogue, at least start."
But he said his top priority now is to ensure that assistance is extended to Myanmar as soon as possible as the country grapples with the humanitarian crisis caused by deepening food shortages among the people amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Noting the need to "quickly get in the humanitarian assistance" to help the Myanmar people, Erywan said a donors conference is being planned for mid-August.
He plans to start consultations with other countries and parties in the coming days, including China, the United States and the European Union to "see how they can help and how they think we can help Myanmar," the minister said, adding that he has already started consultations with Japan.
Erywan is expected to report progress on his efforts to ASEAN foreign ministers at a meeting in September with a clear timeline on the implementation of the five-point consensus.
The diplomat indicated that he plans to hold online meetings with representatives of the National Unity Government, launched by pro-democracy forces as a parallel government following the coup, as well as of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.
But he said that while he will try his best to mediate and foster dialogue between all sides in Myanmar, he hopes that people will be realistic about his role.
"My role is pretty clear as special envoy. That is, talk to all sides to stop the violence, ensure all sides can talk to each other."
"I am not here to negotiate or to impose conditions," he said, adding, "I cannot push to them (Myanmar people) what they don't want."
Erywan also made it clear that demanding the release of Suu Kyi is not part of his mandate. "That is something that we have to be careful about. Not to overstep the mandate that I have been given."
He cautioned that resolving "this problem will take time," saying he will probably serve as the special envoy until Cambodia takes over the rotational chairmanship of ASEAN at the end of this year and appoints its own envoy.
The 55-year-old, who was trained in genetics and biophysics in Britain, was appointed the special envoy after an earlier deadlock that saw a tussle for the post between a Thai nominee, whom the Myanmar military had openly said was its preferred choice, and an Indonesian nominee.
Erywan became a diplomat in 2005. He has been in his current ministerial post since 2018. With Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah doubling as Brunei's foreign minister, Erywan is effectively the country's top diplomat.