Reuters/Bandar SeriI Begawan
US President Joe Biden joined southeast Asian leaders yesterday in rebuking Myanmar’s junta as a regional summit opened without a representative from the country, following its top general’s exclusion for ignoring peace proposals.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) had said it would accept a non-political figure from Myanmar at the virtual meeting, but the junta on Monday rejected that, saying it would only agree to its leader or a minister attending.
In an unprecedented snub to the leader of a member state, Asean had decided to sideline junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led a February 1 coup that spiralled into violence and nationwide chaos, for his failure to cease hostilities, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue, as agreed with Asean.
The decision was a huge insult to Myanmar’s military and a rare, bold step by a regional grouping known for its code of consensus, non-interference and engagement. “Asean did not expel Myanmar from Asean’s framework. Myanmar abandoned its right,” said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who will be the group’s chairman next year. “Now we are in the situation of Asean minus one. It is not because of Asean, but because of Myanmar.”
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Asean had a slot ready for Myanmar, but it chose not to join.
At the virtual summit, Biden voiced “grave concerns” over the violence in Myanmar and called on its military to release people who have been unjustly detained, the White House said.
Myanmar’s junta hit back yesterday evening with a statement criticising Asean’s “denial” of its rightful representative.
“Myanmar’s absence at the Asean summit due to denial for the head of state or head of government or his ministerial level representation, does not intend to show its protest against Asean or to boycott Asean,” the ministry of foreign affairs said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in his remarks to leaders, lamented Myanmar’s “unwelcome attitude” towards Asean’s diplomatic efforts, Retno said.
“Asean’s decision to invite a Myanmar representative on a non-political level was a heavy one, but it had to be done,” she said. “It’s important for us to honour the principles of non-interference. But on the other hand, we’re obligated to uphold other principles...like democracy, good governance, respect for human rights, and a constitutional government,” she said, quoting the president.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Asean chair Brunei said Myanmar should be given space to return to normalcy in line with Asean’s principle of non-interference. The region’s leaders urged “the mediation of the situation in Myanmar to uphold Asean’s credibility,” he said in a statement.
It was Brunei, with majority backing, that had decided to exclude the junta leader.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, a retired general considered the Asean leader closest to Myanmar’s coup-makers, urged the country to implement a five-point roadmap it agreed with Asean.
Asean made the call days after its special envoy, Erywan Yusof, said the junta denied him sufficient access, including to ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is charged with multiple crimes. Suu Kyi, 76, appeared in court yesterday and denied one of the charges, incitement to cause public alarm, media reported. Prayut said he was hopeful the junta would trust Asean’s intentions and that Erywan could visit Myanmar soon and make an “important first step in the process of confidence-building”. Myanmar security forces have killed more than 1,000 people and detained thousands, many tortured and beaten, according to UN envoys.
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