BANGKOK: Myanmar's military ruler Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday (Aug 1) again promised new multi-party elections and said his government is ready to work with any special envoy named by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
He also said a state of emergency would lifted by August 2023, extending the military's initial timeline given when it deposed Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.
He spoke in a televised address six months after the army seized power from a civilian government after disputed elections won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling party, which he described as "terrorists".
"We will accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023," he said.
"I pledge to hold multiparty elections without fail."
The general's announcement would place Myanmar in the military's grip for nearly two-and-a-half-years - instead of the initial one-year timeline the junta announced days after the coup.
"Myanmar is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework including the dialogue with the ASEAN Special Envoy in Myanmar," Min Aung Hlaing added.
The army seized power from the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi after her ruling party won elections that the military argued were tainted by fraud. The country's electoral commission dismissed this allegation.
Across Myanmar small groups of demonstrators marched on Sunday.
Protesters in the northern town of Kale held banners reading "strength for the revolution" while demonstrators let off flares at a march in the commercial capital Yangon.
Tens of thousands of civil servants and other workers have either been sacked for joining rallies or are still on strike in support of a nationwide civil disobedience campaign.
ASEAN foreign ministers are to meet on Monday, when diplomats say they aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.
The United Nations, China and the United States, among others, have identified the Southeast Asian bloc, whose 10 members include Myanmar, as best placed to lead diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar.
The Southeast Asian nation has been racked by a deadly crackdown on protests, economic collapse and a refugee exodus since the coup. A surge in coronavirus infections has overwhelmed Myanmar's health system, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the past month.
The search for a special envoy began in April, when ASEAN leaders produced a "five-point consensus" to tackle the turmoil in Myanmar.
The UN and US have both urged ASEAN to expedite appointment of the special envoy in recent weeks.
The second minister for foreign affairs of Brunei, Erywan Yusof, said on Friday night he hoped a final decision would be made on Monday. Brunei is chair of ASEAN this year.
"Without the envoy leading the way, it is very difficult" to address the situation in Myanmar, he said.
ASEAN has been deeply divided on the envoy, and discussed appointing more than one to break the deadlock.
Four regional diplomatic sources said Erywan was favoured to become envoy and be assisted by "advisers". But a meeting of senior ASEAN officials on Thursday failed to reach agreement, they said.
As well as the nine other ASEAN members, Myanmar's military regime will have to approve the appointment, they said.
A spokesman for Myanmar's National Unity Government which opposes the military junta, Sasa, said the envoy must "put the people of Myanmar front and centre".
"Anything that can help alleviate the people's suffering is welcome," he said.
Erywan publicly confirmed he was one of four candidates. Diplomats said the others were Thailand's deputy foreign minister Weerasak Footrakul, former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda and veteran Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.
ASEAN will also announce a proposal to provide aid to Myanmar, including support to combat the pandemic, diplomats said.