ASEAN condemns lack of Myanmar peace progress

By AFP 6 August 2022

PHNOM PENH—Southeast Asian ministers Friday condemned the lack of progress on a crisis resolution plan for coup-hit Myanmar, demanding the junta take action before a regional summit later this year.

Myanmar has been in chaos since a putsch in February last year, and the death toll from the military’s brutal crackdown on dissent has passed 2,100, according to a local monitoring group.

Anger is growing among some Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members at the generals’ stonewalling, particularly after the execution last month of four political prisoners — including two prominent pro-democracy figures.

The 10-member bloc — spearheading so far fruitless efforts to resolve the turmoil — issued a joint statement after foreign minister talks in Phnom Penh.

The ministers said they were “deeply disappointed by the limited progress in and lack of commitment of the Naypyidaw authorities to the timely and complete implementation of the five point consensus”.

In a veiled warning to Myanmar’s junta, the statement — referencing Article 20 of the ASEAN charter — noted the leaders’ meeting later this year could still take action over “non-compliance”.

ASEAN decisions are usually taken by consensus, but Article 20 allows a summit to override this principle.

Late Friday, the junta’s foreign ministry said it “rejects” the bloc’s statement on the lack of progress on the crisis resolution plan reached with ASEAN last April.

“Myanmar believes ASEAN can maintain its unity and centrality in the long term only if all ASEAN member states respect… sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs” of members, it added.

The junta’s top diplomat, Wunna Maung Lwin, was not invited to Phnom Penh and was also left out of a foreign ministers’ retreat in February, while junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was snubbed at a leaders summit last year.

The foreign ministers also condemned last month’s executions of Jo Phyo Zeya Thaw, a rapper-turned-lawmaker from ousted civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and veteran political activist Ko Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy.

Earlier in the week, Malaysia — which has led calls for tougher action — indicated that Myanmar could face suspension from the bloc, should members not see concrete progress ahead of the leaders summit.

ASEAN has long been derided by critics as a toothless talking shop, but in addition to Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore have pushed for a firmer line on Myanmar.

Friday’s statement said ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar must be allowed to meet with “all relevant stakeholders” — alluding to the military junta’s decision to block access to the detained Suu Kyi.

The Nobel laureate and democracy icon faces a raft of charges that could see her jailed for more than 150 years.

The difficulty of reaching an ASEAN consensus was acknowledged by visiting EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who was in town for the regional talks.

But he emphasised the “Myanmar situation requires bolder, stronger actions”.

“It is clear that the junta is not listening,” he said, labelling the recent executions “a clear provocation”.