ASEAN Emergency Meeting to Discuss Barring Myanmar Junta Chief From Summit

Shailaja Neelakantan
ASEAN Emergency Meeting to Discuss Barring Myanmar Junta Chief From Summit Demonstrators call for democracy in Myanmar as they take part in a rally outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations secretariat building in Jakarta, April 24, 2021.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting Friday to discuss barring the Burmese junta chief from an upcoming ASEAN summit, Indonesia’s ambassador to the regional bloc said Thursday.

News of the meeting came after the Burmese junta spokesman confirmed that Erywan Yusof, the special envoy from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, had “postponed” a trip to Myanmar scheduled for earlier this week.

The Tuesday trip was postponed because Myanmar’s military leadership did not allow Erywan to meet with all parties, including deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said Ade Padmo Sarwono, Indonesia’s ASEAN envoy.

“The meeting will be closed and limited to discussing the issue of Myanmar, especially information obtained from special envoy Dato Erywan,” Ade told BenarNews, when asked if the bloc had decided on Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance at the Oct. 26 to 28 ASEAN summit.

He said Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s junta chief, should not be invited to the ASEAN summit because the bloc does not recognize the junta administration.

Ambassador Ade declined to comment on whether the diplomat appointed by the Burmese junta as foreign minister would attend Friday’s meeting.

Myanmar’s military, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, toppled the elected NLD government on Feb. 1, claiming that last year’s polls were rigged. Since the coup, Burmese security forces have killed close to 1,170 people, mostly anti-coup protesters.

Last week, the ASEAN special envoy told reporters the junta had “backtracked” on a five-point consensus agreed to by Min Aung Hlaing when he and other ASEAN leaders met in Jakarta on April 24.

Friday’s unscheduled meeting to discuss the participation of Min Aung Hlaing was initiated by ASEAN chair Brunei, Ade said.

Until now, Myanmar military-appointed officials have participated in all ASEAN sub-meetings since the coup and splashed photographs of these virtual gatherings on state media and social media.

Myanmar, which became part of the 10-member ASEAN in 1997, has been in a similar position vis-à-vis the bloc before.

It was to take over the revolving chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006 when the country was under military junta rule. But it was persuaded to give the position to the Philippines after Western countries threatened to boycott ASEAN meetings.

NLD denies junta’s claim

Meanwhile, the junta did not comment on this week’s upcoming meeting, but after news broke about it on Friday, the foreign ministry posted a statement on Facebook.

Detailing the chronology of its interactions with the ASEAN envoy, the statement essentially said that the envoy’s Myanmar visit did not take place because the ministry did not agree to certain requests from the envoy.

“Myanmar has demonstrated flexibility in any possible ways and means to facilitate the special envoy’s visit to Myanmar,” the statement said.

“As Myanmar has been prioritizing peace and tranquility in the country, some requests which go beyond the permission of existing laws will be difficult to be accommodated. In this respect, the special envoy and international community need to show some understanding on such a situation.”

Earlier, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told Radio Free Asia, a BenarNews sister entity, that the envoy could meet members of all parties who did not face trial, “including NLD members.”

He said Myanmar’s junta-appointed election commission had invited “all major parties” for the meeting on Oct. 12, but U Bo Oo, a senior NLD leader, took issue with that assertion.

“I have not heard that National League for Democracy (NLD) has been invited yet,” the vice-chairman of an NLD township committee told RFA.

Without referring to the trip or its cancellation, the ASEAN envoy had issued a statement Tuesday saying he “reiterates his commitment to making a visit to Myanmar, and to be accepted to have access to all parties concerned in order to fulfil his role as mandated in the five-point consensus.”

The fifth point of that consensus says: “The special envoy and delegation shall visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.”

In Washington on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the Burmese regime must be accountable to ASEAN’s five-point consensus.

In a telephone call with Erywan in his capacity as Brunei’s second foreign minister, Blinken reaffirmed the need to “facilitate a meaningful visit by Foreign Minister II Erywan to Burma to include engagements with all stakeholders.”

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations attend a meeting in Jakarta to discuss the Myanmar crisis, April 24, 2021. [Handout Indonesian Presidential Palace via AFP]

ASEAN ‘leaders may need to step in’

Three ASEAN members may well assent to disinviting the Burmese coup leader from the regional summit later this month, based on recent comments by their top diplomats.

On Thursday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said ASEAN’s credibility would be in question if it let the junta leader and representatives attend any more ASEAN meetings.

“Well, we can continue with this keeping … them [Myanmar junta] at a distance, but … if we do, if we relent in any way, our credibility as a real regional organization disappears,” Locsin said in a conversation on Friday with the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.

If ASEAN doesn’t prevent junta representatives from attending the meeting, “we’re a bunch of guys who always agree with each other on the worthless things,” Locsin said.

Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s foreign ministers indicated last week that Min Aung Hlaing should not attend the ASEAN summit.

However, ASEAN takes decisions based on consensus, so keeping the junta leader out of the summit “would be a significant bridge for ASEAN to cross,” said Thomas Daniel, an analyst at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

“Member states that have stubbornly clung to the convenience of non-interference, preventing a more effective response to the violence that followed the coup, are likely to continue to do all they can to keep the status quo,” Daniel told BenarNews.

Another analyst, Aaron Connelly, from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said foreign ministers alone may not be able to decide on barring Min Aung Hlaing.

“The [member-countries’] leaders may need to step in and come to a solution, particularly the Sultan [of Brunei] as ASEAN chair,” Connelly said on Twitter.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta and Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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