9 May 2024

Exiled Myanmar political figure visits Parliament

6:01 pm on 9 May 2024
Aung Myo Min, Myanmar National Unity Government human rights minister, during his visit to Wellington in May 2024.

Aung Myo Min of the Myanmar National Unity Government party, during his trip to Wellington in May in order to raise awareness of their cause in New Zealand. Photo: RNZ/ Giles Dexter

A member of Myanmar's government-in-exile says he is pleased at efforts New Zealand has made so far to oppose the country's military junta, but that more could be done.

The National Unity Government's human rights minister Aung Myo Min has visited Wellington, to meet with politicians and officials.

Aung Myo Min, who is now based in Europe, said he was fortunate he was able to travel and engage with different governments. But he was looking forward to one day returning home.

"I really want to go back and finish the struggles. I always look forward to go back," he told RNZ.

New Zealand was one of the first countries to condemn the military coup in 2021, imposing sanctions and travel bans on the junta's leadership, and suspending high-level political engagement. The travel ban was expanded in February.

Aung Myo Min welcomed the actions taken so far, but wanted New Zealand to increase humanitarian support and development programmes to directly reach the people of Myanmar, and recognise the National Unity Government's legitimacy.

"An action has taken place, but there needs a lot of follow up to make the sanctions more effective and efficient, with other international and other governments, the New Zealand government, for more stronger actions, to stop the military and to support the people who are still fighting against the military," he said.

Aung Myo Min said he was disappointed New Zealand granted a visa to a representative from the junta last month, for an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting hosted in Wellington.

The Prime Minister maintained it was an ASEAN event, and ASEAN policy was to engage with Myanmar at a non-political level.

New Zealand is not a member of ASEAN.

Aung Myo Min said the representative should not have been allowed in at all, regardless of status.

"No matter if he's high-level or low-level, they are representing the military, who is committing crimes against humanity, who is preying on people," Aung Myo Min said.

The decision attracted condemnation from New Zealand's Myanmar diaspora, which marched to Parliament in April. Opposition MPs spoke at the event.

Aung Myo Min said he was heartened to see the community turn out.

"That is amazing to see that. Politicians, members of Parliament, and diaspora. But that should be policy of government," he said.

The National Unity Government has claimed it is gaining more control, in more territories. As such, Aung Myo Min said it was time there was more political engagement and recognition of the NUG.

"We are the legitimate government. We have de facto and de jure position as well."

Aung Myo Min had met with a number of MPs, including Labour's Phil Twyford.

Twyford, who spoke in support of the march at Parliament last month, said Labour wanted to see a return to democracy, and an end to human rights abuses.

"There's nearly three million people displaced by the fighting, and living in camps, and they're not getting aid. It's a really desperate situation. So New Zealand can contribute to the cross-border aid operation, to get aid in to those people who are in the rebel-held areas. So they don't get access to the aid that some countries give to the military regime," he said.

While Aung Myo Min was pleased to meet with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials and a broad range of MPs, he had not secured a meeting with the foreign affairs minister.

He also visited New Zealand last year, and met with then-Foreign Affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta. However, she acted in her Labour party capacity, as the government did not recognise any government in Myanmar.

Twyford said until that came about, Winston Peters could have met with Aung Myo Min informally.

"I think a face-to-face meeting would have been in order. So that's a shame. But we'll continue to work on the current government, and try and get them to come around on that."

Peters said he was unable to meet Aung Myo Min, as he had meetings in Auckland before his flight to the Pacific on Sunday.

But he had agreed to move the motion to condemn the military regime.

"We agreed with the Labour party it needed to be made, so we made it," Peters said.

The motion, which also called for an immediate end to violence, supported the UN's further engagement of the crisis, and urged all governments to provide all possible support to the people of Myanmar, and was agreed to unanimously.

Twyford said he was pleased to see the unanimous condemnation.

"I think that's an important message that we can get out there internationally. And it will be very well-received by people inside Myanmar, who are struggling in the most appalling conditions at the moment, to try and get their country back to democracy. I think it'll mean a lot," he said.

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