Myanmar’s government-in-exile, known as the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), on Friday prepared to open its first office in Washington to reach out to U.S. officials, international diplomats and the local community.
NUG’s foreign minister, Zin Mar Aung, told VOA the office aims to promote communication between the shadow government and a wide range of interests.
“We aim to work with U.S. closely and effectively as well as the Burmese community in the U.S.,” the foreign minister said, adding that the goal is “to be effective in our diplomatic channel.”
She noted that NUG has representatives in other countries, notably Australia and South Korea.
NUG was formed by ousted Myanmar officials and some ethnic leaders who oppose the country’s military government and back the armed resistance movement fighting it.
Priscilla Clapp, a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told VOA the opening of the office in the U.S. capital “is a big deal” but noted that the office carries no official status.
“It’s not official recognition. We can’t do that because we have an embassy in Rangoon,” Clapp said, using the former name of Yangon. “And if we were to recognize an alternative government officially, we would lose our embassy. It’s easier to do that when you don’t have diplomatic relations with the country. Diplomatic relations are with a country, not a government. We have an embassy in Rangoon but they don’t really talk to the government, or I mean the SAC, in Naypyidaw.” She was referring to the State Administration Council, the junta now running Myanmar.
Clapp, who served as chief of mission and permanent charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Burma from 1999 to 2002, said the previous Burmese exiled government, known as the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, or NCGUB, did not have the same opportunities to exert influence that NUG has.
“The NCGUB didn’t have this kind of popular support and determination that this resistance has. This is very serious – I mean, this is a revolution going on in this country and that doesn’t happen before,” Clapp said.
NUG announced armed resistance against the military junta last September, backed by some ethnic armed groups.
A recent report by former U.N. officials serving on a special advisory council on Myanmar estimated the junta has lost control of more than half the country.
The Myanmar junta has labeled NUG as a terrorist group. It also rejected the advisory council report as “baseless.”
Myanmar’s military launched a coup in February 2021, declaring a state of emergency and detaining members of the democratically elected government. The junta declared that the 2020 election that put the country’s civilian leaders in power was invalid and pledged to hold a new election at the end of the state of emergency.
Since then, the state of emergency has continued and thousands of people are believed to have been killed in clashes between the military and the resistance movement.