Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the philanthropic Nippon Foundation and Japan's special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar, recently met with multiple members of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, the envoy has revealed.
Sasakawa said in an interview with Kyodo News on Thursday that he met with the "very high-ranking" members of the NLD during a "personal" visit to Myanmar. But he did not mention the members' names and what he discussed with them.
It is rare for the military, which has detained Suu Kyi and other executives of the NLD since it ousted her government in a Feb. 1 coup, to allow someone to meet high-ranking members of the party.
An exiled executive of the party, however, told local media that he did not believe Sasakawa had met anyone representing the NLD.
According to a report by radio and online news Voice of America Burmese on Friday, Aung Kyi Nyunt, an exiled NLD executive and a member of the central working committee of the party, said Sasakawa had not contacted the committee to meet with any party members.
Sasakawa, who has visited Myanmar frequently in the past, held a meeting with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the top commander of the armed forces, last Saturday but declined to comment if he has asked the military leader to release Suu Kyi.
Regarding ASEAN's special envoy to Myanmar who has not been able to visit the country despite a scheduled trip in October, Sasakawa said "the military was planning to accept the envoy."
He added, "It was unfortunate that (the military and ASEAN) failed in taking the first step toward discussion" as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had added a meeting between the envoy and Suu Kyi as a condition for the visit.
ASEAN has urged Myanmar to allow the visit by the ASEAN special envoy, Brunei's Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, and let him meet representatives from all sides of the conflict in the country in the hope of finding a way to resolve the issue through mediation, in line with a peace plan adopted by the ASEAN leaders in April.
Amid a lack of cooperation from the military government in allowing the envoy to meet with Suu Kyi and some other opposition leaders, ASEAN made an unprecedented decision in October to effectively exclude the military leader from a summit held that month.
Meanwhile, Sasakawa also said the U.S. government sought his help to win the freedom of an American journalist recently sentenced to 11 years in jail by a military court.
He said he was asked by the U.S. government to intercede with the military in the case of Danny Fenster, the managing editor of online news magazine Frontier Myanmar, who was arrested on May 24 at Yangon's airport and charged with the dissemination of false information and other offenses.
Just two days after the meeting between Sasakawa and Min Aung Hlaing, Fenster was released after being detained for almost six months.
Known for his close ties with the military, Sasakawa frequently visited Myanmar before the coup and has met Min Aung Hlaing many times.
During his most recent trip to Myanmar, Sasakawa met armed ethnic minority groups and parties close to Buddhist monks, in an effort to help seek solutions to the turmoil in the country, he said.
While Myanmar has struggled with a faltering economy triggered by both the political turmoil following the coup and the coronavirus pandemic, Sasakawa said Nippon Foundation will donate 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccine through the Myanmar Red Cross Society.