BANGKOK - Myanmar's junta on Monday (Oct 25) slammed Asean's decision to deny its political appointee participation in this week's summit, saying that was tantamount to denying the country the same rights enjoyed by other member states.
In a press release circulated on the eve of the 38th and 39th Asean summits which begin on Tuesday, the junta-controlled foreign ministry said: "Myanmar being an Asean member state has the full rights to participate in the upcoming Asean summits and related summits ... as the Asean Charter guaranteed equality of all Asean member states and thus equal level of representation at the Asean Meetings on equal footing with fellow Asean Member States."
Brunei, as this year's Asean chair, effectively barred Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from the summit by extending an invitation to a "non-political representative" from Myanmar after an emergency foreign ministers meeting on Oct 15. This was in response to the junta's stonewalling of attempts to foster domestic dialogue amid Myanmar's political crisis.
The junta's foreign ministry said downgrading Myanmar's participation by effectively limiting its representative to that of the ministry's permanent secretary contravened the terms of Asean's charter.
It added that it would only accept participation of the "head of state or head of government or his ministerial level representatives" and would be "pursuing the due processes under the Asean charter" to resolve the differences.
The apparent standoff threatens to cast a pall over this week's proceedings, which will be held virtually.
Myanmar is now trapped in escalating violence amid broad resistance to the Feb 1 military coup that overthrew a civil government led by the National League for Democracy. Its leaders, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, are behind bars, standing trial for charges widely seen to be designed to bar them from politics.
Ousted lawmakers have regrouped under a shadow National Unity Government (NUG) that is rivalling the junta for international recognition as the rightful representative of Myanmar. The NUG has also requested to represent Myanmar at the Asean summits.
The junta, which alleges fraud during Myanmar's elections last November, calls the NUG an "armed terrorist group" and has ruled out negotiations with it. It has blocked Brunei's Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, who is Asean's special envoy to Myanmar, from meeting Ms Suu Kyi.
As part of Asean's "Five-Point Consensus" drawn up in April during an earlier emergency meeting in the presence of General Min Aung Hlaing, Mr Erywan was due to travel to Myanmar to meet key political stakeholders to foster dialogue. The trip has not taken place.
It is unclear what will happen to the special envoy's office after Cambodia takes over the chairmanship of Asean at the end of the summits on Thursday.
While Asean has not officially recognised the military regime as Myanmar's government, ministers and civil servants under the junta's control have so far been allowed to take part in official Asean meetings. The junta has, in turn, used images from such meetings to bolster its legitimacy.
Discussions about Myanmar's status had sparked disagreement within Asean, which traditionally made decisions by consensus.
The United States last week called Asean's decision to bar Gen Min Aung Hlaing from the summit "completely justified and warranted given the circumstances".