| 23 October 2021, Saturday |

ASEAN discusses excluding Myanmar junta chief from summit

Due to a lack of progress on an agreed roadmap to restore peace in Myanmar’s strife-torn country, Southeast Asian countries are considering not inviting the leader of Myanmar’s junta to a summit later this month, a regional envoy said on Wednesday.

The junta’s failure to implement a five-point plan agreed to with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April was “tantamount to retreating,” according to Erywan Yusof, ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar.

Myanmar has been in chaos since a military coup led by military chief Min Aung Hlaing on Feb. 1 ended a decade of shaky democracy, and the return of military authority has sparked outcry both domestically and internationally.

After Malaysia and other ASEAN members raised the matter, Erywan, Brunei’s second foreign minister, said the bloc was “deep in discussions” considering not inviting the junta to participate in a virtual summit on Oct. 26-28.

“There has been no progress on implementing the five-point consensus up until now, which has caused concerns,” Erywan added.

Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for Myanmar’s junta, did not return a phone from Reuters on Wednesday. At a press conference last week, he said Myanmar was engaging with ASEAN “without jeopardizing the country’s sovereignty.”

The bloc’s effort to engage with Myanmar’s military has been criticized by supporters of democracy, with a committee of ousted Myanmar lawmakers declaring the junta a terrorist group and saying ASEAN’s engagement would give it legitimacy.

Still, excluding a leader from the summit would be a big step for ASEAN, which operates under consensus decision-making principles and prefers engagement, rather than confrontation, with member countries.

Erywan said the junta had not directly responded to his requests to meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose government was overthrown in the coup.

He added that he had proposed a programme for his visit to Myanmar to the military appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin last week, but the junta has not yet responded.

A source close to the Malaysian government said the ASEAN envoy was unlikely to visit Myanmar before the summit as the bloc had initially targeted.

More than 1,100 people have been killed since the coup, according to the United Nations, many during a crackdown by security forces on pro-democracy strikes and protests, during which thousands have been arrested. The junta says that estimate is exaggerated and members of its security forces have also been killed.

The ASEAN roadmap included a commitment to dialogue with all parties, allowing humanitarian access and ceasing hostilities.

Myanmar’s lengthy history of military rule and alleged human rights violations has been ASEAN’s most difficult issue, putting its unity and non-interference policy to the test.

However, the foreign ministers meeting digitally on Monday expressed concern with the lack of progress made by Myanmar’s junta, the State Administrative Council (SAC).

On Monday, Malaysia’s senior diplomat, Saifuddin Abdullah, remarked on Twitter that without progress, “having the chairman of the SAC at the ASEAN summit will be problematic.”

On Wednesday, he maintained his position in parliament, saying the ASEAN Ambassador was doing “all humanly possible” to move the roadmap forward.