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Malaysia says it won't compromise on demands for Myanmar progress

  • >>Rozanna Latiff, Reuters
    Published: 2021-10-15 14:44:27 BdST

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Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato' Saifuddin Abdullah speaks with member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (not pictured) during a meeting in Beijing, China Sept 12, 2019. Andrea Verdelli/ REUTERS

Malaysia does not want Myanmar's junta chief to attend an upcoming Southeast Asian leaders' summit if he fails to honour his commitment to a peace plan, its foreign minister said on Friday, ahead of a meeting to decide on a regional response.

The minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, said he was informed Erywan Yusof, a special envoy for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), planned to visit Myanmar next week, and the bloc's foreign ministers would hold a virtual meeting on Friday to assess the junta's commitment to the peace process.

Myanmar's military seized power in a Feb 1 coup led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and triggered a backlash that has plunged the country into chaos.

"This evening we will be looking at the details of the proposed visit," he told a news conference.

"If there is no real progress then Malaysia's stand would remain that we do not want the general to be attending the summit. No compromise on that."

Myanmar has been one of ASEAN's most divisive issues since it joined the bloc in 1997 as a military dictatorship lambasted by the West for its iron-fisted rule, testing ASEAN's unity and denting its international credibility.

The exclusion of Min Aung Hlaing, though not formally recognised as an ASEAN leader, would be a big step for the bloc, which has a policy of non-interference in each other's affairs and has long favoured engagement over punitive measures.

Min Aung Hlaing in April agreed to a five-point ASEAN plan that the group called a "consensus" on a way out of the deadly turmoil in Myanmar since the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi, alleging fraud in an election her party won in a landslide.

The commitment includes dialogue with all parties, humanitarian access and a cessation of all hostilities.

LOSING PATIENCE

Several ASEAN members have expressed exasperation with the junta's failure to follow the plan, which the United Nations, China and United States initially supported.

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have indicated they were in favour of excluding Min Aung Hlaing from the Oct. 26-28 virtual summit, but were pushing for an ASEAN consensus, three sources with knowledge of the issue told Reuters this week.

Saifuddin on Friday said without a consensus, there was no protocol for excluding an ASEAN member. However, he believed there would be a solution.

"We do not have a system where you downgrade a particular member's representation to the summit. So there are probably other ways of doing this," he said.

Zaw Min Tun, the Myanmar junta spokesman, this week said ASEAN envoy Erywan would not be allowed to meet Suu Kyi because she is charged with crimes.

Myanmar's foreign ministry late on Thursday issued a lengthy statement saying it was committed to the ASEAN plan and receiving the envoy.

It suggested that Erywan should prioritise ways to "build trust and confidence" on his first trip.

Thailand's foreign ministry took a conciliatory tone, saying it viewed Myanmar as a member of the ASEAN family and saw Erywan's visit as "an important first step in the process of confidence-building with a goal of encouraging dialogue".

"We also believe in the collective wisdom of all ASEAN member states, including Myanmar, to overcome all challenges together," it said.