Asean summit may shut out Myanmar junta chief

Foreign ministers of grouping to discuss matter at meeting today

KUALA LUMPUR • Foreign ministers of South-east Asia will, at a meeting today, discuss excluding Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming summit, sources told Reuters, as pressure builds on the ruling military to comply with an agreed peace road map.

The meeting comes as the junta ruled out allowing a regional envoy to meet deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial on multiple charges since her elected government was ousted in a Feb 1 coup.

Asean agreed on a five-point consensus with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in April, but several members of the bloc have criticised the junta's failure to implement the plan, which includes dialogue among all parties, humanitarian access and an end to hostilities.

Today's previously unscheduled virtual meeting will be hosted by Asean chair Brunei, according to multiple Asean-based sources, who include diplomats and government officials.

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia had earlier indicated that they were in favour of excluding Gen Min Aung Hlaing from the virtual summit from Oct 26 to 28, but were pushing for a consensus among nine Asean states, three of the sources said. Myanmar is the 10th Asean member.

A spokesman for Thailand's foreign ministry confirmed a meeting would be held today.

Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin yesterday voiced support for excluding Gen Min Aung Hlaing from future summits, adding that Asean could no longer afford to take a neutral stance on Myanmar.

"We can continue keeping them (Myanmar) at a distance but... if we relent in any way, our credibility as a real regional organisation disappears," Mr Locsin said in an interview with Australian think-tank Lowy Institute. "What's that? We're a bunch of guys who always agree with each other on the worthless things, things that don't count in the world."

Myanmar, with a long history of military dictatorship and international sanctions over systematic human rights abuses, has been Asean's trickiest issue since it was formed in 1967, testing the limits of its unity and its policy of non-interference in each other's affairs.

More than 1,100 people have been killed since the coup, according to the United Nations, many during crackdowns by security forces on pro-democracy strikes and protests, during which thousands have been arrested.

Brunei's Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Erywan Yusof, Asean's special envoy to Myanmar, last week confirmed some members had been "deep in discussions" about not inviting the military leader. His office declined to comment on today's meeting. A long-planned visit by him to Myanmar has been delayed in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, Mr Erywan said he was in consultations with parties in Myanmar, did not take sides or political positions and looked forward to a visit.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun, in written remarks dated Wednesday, said the military will not block Mr Erywan from visiting but will not allow him to meet Ms Suu Kyi, because she has been charged with crimes.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2021, with the headline 'Asean summit may shut out Myanmar junta chief'. Subscribe