U.S. State Dept. No.2 Sherman speaks with Myanmar shadow government


FILE PHOTO: Wendy Sherman arrives for a meeting on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The No.2 U.S. diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, spoke on Wednesday with a representative of Myanmar's government in exile, the first announced contact between a senior U.S. official and the rival administration to the generals who overthrew a democratically elected government.

The State Department said Sherman spoke with Zin Mar Aung, who has been appointed acting foreign minister in the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) for Myanmar, also known as Burma.

The NUG was formed by members of the elected government and other opponents of the generals who toppled a democratically elected government six months ago, plunging the country into turmoil.

Myanmar's economy has collapsed and a humanitarian crisis worsened in the past month as coronavirus infections surged, overwhelming the health system.

"They discussed ongoing efforts to return Burma to a path to democracy, including continued U.S. support for the pro-democracy movement," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

"In addition, they discussed efforts to combat rising COVID-19 infections in Burma and to provide critical humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma."

Unlike many of its neighbors, Myanmar has not received coronavirus vaccines from the United States amid a vaccine diplomacy push from the Biden administration. Washington has imposed sanctions on the military and some of its business interests and has had little contact with the military-led government.

Hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met virtually with counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and called on them to take joint action to urge the military to end violence, the State Department said.

Blinken welcomed the bloc's appointment of Brunei's second minister for foreign affairs, Erywan Yusof, as special envoy to Myanmar.

He also urged the group's foreign ministers to push for Myanmar to "release all those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to democracy," the earlier statement said.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Simon Lewis and Merdie Nzanga; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Alistair Bell)

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