ASEAN excludes Myanmar junta leader from summit in unprecedented move

Myanmar's military ruler Min Aung Hlaing presides over an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS
A Southeast Asia summit this month will invite a non-political representative from Myanmar, Brunei said on Saturday, sidelining the leader of the military junta in an unprecedented move for the group.

The decision by foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), at an emergency meeting on Friday night, marks a shift for the bloc, which has traditionally favoured a policy of engagement and non-interference.

The meeting was called to address the failure of Myanmar's junta, which seized power in February, to adhere to a peace roadmap it had agreed to with ASEAN in April, aimed at tackling the fallout from the coup led by Min Aung Hlaing.

International pressure has been building on ASEAN to take a tougher position on Myanmar's failure to take the agreed steps to end the violence, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue with its opponents.

More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by Myanmar security forces and thousands arrested, according to the United Nations, amid a crackdown on strikes and protests which has derailed the country's tentative democracy and prompted international condemnation.

In a statement, ASEAN's current chair Brunei said a non-political figure from Myanmar would be invited to the Oct. 26-28 summit, after no consensus was reached for a political representative to attend.

"As there had been insufficient progress... as well as concerns over Myanmar’s commitment, in particular on establishing constructive dialogue among all concerned parties, some ASEAN Member States recommended that ASEAN give space to Myanmar to restore its internal affairs and return to normalcy," Brunei said.

The statement did not mention Min Aung Hlaing or name the non-political figure to be invited in his stead.

Brunei said some member states had received requests from Myanmar's National Unity Government, formed by opponents of the junta, to attend the summit.

Foreign ministers in Friday's meeting emphasised the importance of giving ASEAN's envoy to Myanmar, Erywan Yusof, access to all parties concerned, Brunei said.

A long-planned visit by the envoy to Myanmar has been delayed in recent weeks, with Erywan insisting on meeting all parties, including deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained on various charges since the coup.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said this week Erywan would be welcome in the country but would not be allowed to meet Suu Kyi because she is charged with crimes.