ASEAN has rarely removed Myanmar’s junta leader from the summit


Reuters file photo: A flag is seen outside the Southeast Asian Nations Association (ASEAN) Secretariat building ahead of a meeting of ASEAN leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia. Reuters / Willie Kourniawan / File photo


By law binding

Bandar Seri Begawan (Reuters) – Southeast Asian countries will invite a non-political representative from Myanmar to a regional summit this month to crack down on a military leader who led an unprecedented coup against an elected civilian government in February.

The decision, taken by foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at an emergency meeting on Friday night, marked a rare bold move for the Sens minority-based bloc, traditionally advocating a policy of engagement and intervention.

Singapore’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that the move to oust junta chief Min Aung Hlaing was “a difficult but necessary decision to uphold ASEAN credibility”.

The statement noted the lack of progress on a roadmap to restore peace in Myanmar, which the junta agreed with ASEAN in April.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military government blamed “foreign intervention” for the decision.

Janta spokesman Jao Min-tun told the BBC Burmese News Service that representatives of the United States and the European Union had put pressure on other ASEAN member states.

“Foreign intervention is also seen here,” he said. “We have learned that some ambassadors from some countries have met with the US State Department and have received pressure from the EU.”

According to the United Nations, more than a thousand civilians have been killed and thousands arrested by Myanmar’s security forces amid arrests, strikes and demonstrations that have undermined the country’s temporary democracy and sparked international condemnation.

The junta says the death toll is exaggerated.

Brunei, the current chair of ASEAN, said a non-political figure from Myanmar would be invited to the summit on October 26-28 after no US delegation was present in the presence of any political representative.

“Since there has been insufficient progress … as well as concerns over Myanmar’s commitment, especially the establishment of constructive dialogue between all parties concerned, some ASEAN member states have recommended that ASEAN be given a place to restore Myanmar’s internal affairs and return to normalcy,” Brunei said in a statement.

It did not mention Min Aung Hlaing or who would be invited instead.

Brunei says some member states have received requests from Myanmar’s national government, which was formed by junta opponents, to attend the conference.

‘Fair downgrade’

ASEAN has faced growing international pressure to take a tougher stance against Myanmar, criticized for its ineffectiveness in dealing with leaders accused of human rights abuses in the past, destroyed democracy and intimidated political opponents.

A U.S. State Department official told reporters Friday that reducing Myanmar’s participation in the upcoming ASEAN summit was “perfectly appropriate and indeed completely fair.”

In a statement, Singapore called on Myanmar to co-operate with ASEAN’s ambassador to Brunei, Eriwan Youssef, Brunei’s second foreign minister.

Eriwan has postponed a long-planned visit to the country in recent weeks and called on all parties in Myanmar, including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to meet with all parties in Myanmar.

Janta spokesman Jao Min-tun said Aryan would be welcomed in Myanmar this week, but would not be allowed to meet with Suu Kyi because of criminal charges against her.

The Malaysian foreign minister said the appointment of an alternative representative to the summit would depend on the junta of Myanmar.

“We never thought of moving Myanmar out of ASEAN, we believe Myanmar has the same rights (like us),” Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters, according to the state news agency Barnama.

“But the junta did not cooperate, so ASEAN must be strong in maintaining its credibility and integrity,” he added.

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