Indonesian Envoy: ASEAN Bars Myanmar Junta Chief from Upcoming Summit

Ronna Nirmala and Shailaja Neelakantan
Jakarta and Washington
Indonesian Envoy: ASEAN Bars Myanmar Junta Chief from Upcoming Summit Myanmar’s junta leader and armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (right) waves during the inauguration of a new military coastguard in Yangon, Myanmar, Oct. 6, 2021.

Updated at 6:25 p.m. ET on 2021-10-15

Southeast Asian foreign ministers decided on Friday not to allow the Burmese junta chief to attend an upcoming ASEAN summit, an Indonesian diplomat said about a rare move by the regional bloc, which has been criticized for its collective dithering in response to post-coup Myanmar.

The top diplomats of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations took the decision at an emergency virtual meeting, after Myanmar’s military government this week backtracked on allowing ASEAN’s special envoy to meet with all parties in the country, including jailed opposition leaders.

After Friday’s meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that ASEAN member Myanmar had made no progress in implementing the bloc’s five-point roadmap to putting the country back on a path to peace and democracy.

“Indonesia proposed [that] the participation of Myanmar at the summits should not be represented at the political level until Myanmar restores its democracy through an inclusive process,” Retno said in a message posted on Twitter.

BenarNews asked Ade Padmo Sarwono, Indonesia’s envoy to ASEAN, whether the bloc’s members had decided against inviting Senior Gen, Min Aung Hlaing – the Burmese junta chief – to the Oct. 26-28 summit.

“Read Retno’s tweet,” he replied.

BenarNews asked him whether other ASEAN members had the same position as Retno’s.

“Yes,” he answered.

In the hours before the region’s top diplomats huddled for their emergency meeting, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah warned that Kuala Lumpur would press to have Min Aung Hlaing excluded from the summit, if needed.

“Malaysia’s stand is clear and I will repeat that if there is no significant progress in the implementation of the five-point consensus, the junta chief helming the nation should not be invited to the ASEAN summit,” he told reporters.

The junta leader had agreed to the consensus at an April meeting in Jakarta that was called to discuss the situation in Myanmar after he led the military in a Feb. 1 coup that toppled an elected government.

Min Aung Hlaing has tested other ASEAN members’ patience since leading the coup and throwing Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of the National League for Democracy government in jail. During the more than eight months since, Burmese security forces have killed close to 1,180 people, mostly anti-coup protesters.

ASEAN was finally pushed to deliver its sharpest response to the Myanmar junta. The 10-member bloc did not immediately issue a statement after the Friday meeting, but one was expected on Saturday.

Several news sites on Friday, citing unnamed sources, corroborated what the Indonesian diplomat Ade said. Some media outlets said that Wunna Maung Lwin, the junta-appointed foreign minister, attended Friday’s meeting.

Some news agencies, also citing unnamed sources, said ASEAN would invite a “non-political figure” to represent Myanmar at the meeting.

The emergency meeting of foreign ministers was called by Brunei, which currently holds the bloc’s revolving chairmanship.

Until now, Myanmar military-appointed officials have participated in all ASEAN sub-meetings since the coup. The junta has also splashed photographs of these virtual ASEAN gatherings on state media and social media, all in an attempt to gain legitimacy.

Political analysts and rights groups had said that was tantamount to recognizing the military government.

Credibility gap

For this reason and for its legendary delays in arriving at decisions, ASEAN was on the verge of losing credibility.

This was “the cost of its dithering and indecision on the complex and fast-evolving geopolitical environment,” former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently told The Jakarta Post.

The regional bloc works by consensus, which is why critics have called it ineffective. Some diplomats in the region had said that Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand were blocking taking stern action against the Myanmar junta.

It took the bloc more than a hundred days to agree on who would be special envoy to Myanmar. During that time, ASEAN also watered down a United Nations resolution calling for an arms embargo on Myanmar.

Throughout this period of indecision, Burmese security forces continued to shoot at and kill anti-coup protesters.

On Thursday, two analysts told BenarNews that they did not think ASEAN member-states would agree to block Min Aung Hlaing from the summit – or at least not agree on this at the emergency meeting.

Still, it was clear during the past two weeks that Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were against allowing the leader of the Myanmar coup into the summit because he was not cooperating with ASEAN envoy to Myanmar Erywan Yusof.

Meanwhile, a host of countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, on Friday issued a “Joint Statement of Support for the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar.”

They said they “are committed to supporting his efforts to facilitate Myanmar’s full and urgent implementation of the five-point consensus, as decided by ASEAN leaders and the Commander in Chief of the Myanmar military.”

“We emphasize support for the objectives of Dato Erywan’s visit, including his intention to meet all parties in line with the Five-Point Consensus, and call on the regime to facilitate his access. We reiterate our support for the Special Envoy role going forward, and stand ready to support ASEAN’s efforts across Chairs,” the statement said.

ASEAN’s decisive move, after months, to deliver its sharpest rebuke to the Myanmar junta won plaudits from some analysts and on social media.

Simon Adams, president of the Center for Victims of Torture, an organization that treats torture survivors and does human rights advocacy, called it “a good decision by ASEAN” to not allow the junta chief into the summit.

“A junta that is responsible for shooting down protesters, mass arrests and overseeing the torture of detainees should not be allowed to pretend that it has diplomatic credibility,” Adams told BenarNews.

“Myanmar’s generals belong in handcuffs not at ASEAN meetings. It’s time for ASEAN to give the 5-point consensus some teeth.”

Mizanur Rahman, commissioner of the Bangladesh Securities & Exchange Commission, said on Twitter: “ASEAN seems to have exceeded my expectations."

The Civil Disobedience Movement, led by professionals in Myanmar, thanked ASEAN.

“You made the right decision not to invite treasoner-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. He committed treason against the country and he is a terrorist,” the group said in a tweet.

“He doesn’t deserve to be sitting at the ASEAN meeting.”

Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur and Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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