ASEAN condemns lack of Myanmar peace progress

Lisa Martin, Rose Troup Buchanan - Agence France-Presse
ASEAN condemns lack of Myanmar peace progress
The empty chair of Myanmar's Foreign Minister is pictured during a Plenary Meeting session of the 55th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh, on August 3, 2022. Myanmar is not be represented at the meeting after the other members said they would not accept a junta minister and the generals refused to send another official instead.
AFP / Mohd Rasfan

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Southeast Asian ministers Friday condemned the lack of progress on a crisis resolution plan for coup-hit Myanmar, demanding the junta take action before a regional summit later this year.

Myanmar has been in chaos since a putsch in February last year, and the death toll from the military's brutal crackdown on dissent has passed 2,100, according to a local monitoring group.

Anger is growing among some Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members at the generals' stonewalling, particularly after the execution last month of four prisoners -- including two prominent pro-democracy figures.

The 10-member bloc -- spearheading so far fruitless efforts to resolve the turmoil -- issued a joint statement after foreign minister talks in Phnom Penh.

The ministers said they were "deeply disappointed by the limited progress in and lack of commitment of the Naypyidaw authorities to the timely and complete implementation of the five point consensus".

And in a veiled warning to Myanmar's junta, the statement -- referencing Article 20 of the ASEAN charter -- noted the leaders' meeting later this year could still take action over "non-compliance".

ASEAN decisions are usually taken by consensus, but Article 20 allows a summit to override this principle.

Late Friday, the junta's foreign ministry said it "rejects" the bloc's statement on the lack of progress on the crisis resolution plan reached with ASEAN last April. 

"Myanmar believes ASEAN can maintain its unity and centrality in the long term only if all ASEAN member states respect... sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs" of members, it added.

The junta's top diplomat, Wunna Maung Lwin, was not invited to Phnom Penh and was also left out of a foreign ministers' retreat in February, while junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was snubbed at a leaders summit last year.

The foreign ministers also condemned last month's executions of Phyo Zeya Thaw, a rapper-turned-lawmaker from ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, and veteran political activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as "Jimmy".

Earlier in the week, Malaysia -- which has led calls for tougher action -- indicated that Myanmar could face suspension from the bloc, should members not see concrete progress ahead of the leaders summit.

ASEAN has long been derided by critics as a toothless talking shop, but in addition to Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore have pushed for a firmer line on Myanmar.

Friday's statement said ASEAN's special envoy to Myanmar must be allowed to meet with "all relevant stakeholders" -- alluding to the military junta's decision to block access to the detained Suu Kyi.

The Nobel laureate and democracy icon faces a raft of charges that could see her jailed for more than 150 years.

The difficulty of reaching an ASEAN consensus was acknowledged by visiting EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who was in town for the regional talks.

But he emphasised the "Myanmar situation requires bolder, stronger actions".

"It is clear that the junta is not listening," he said, labelling the recent executions "a clear provocation".

Taiwan tensions

The latest communique did not specifically mention this week's spat between China and the United States following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

A furious Beijing kicked off its biggest-ever military exercises in waters surrounding the self-ruled island in response to the visit on Thursday.

But the ASEAN foreign ministers warned against "provocative action".

The situation "could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers", they said in a joint statement published Thursday.

On Friday, the ministers also held regional security talks with their counterparts from the US, China, Russia, Japan and Australia at the East Asia Summit.

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