Asean summit host Brunei says Myanmar is an ‘integral part’ of the bloc

Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said Myanmar is an integral part of the Asean family and its membership has not been questioned. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (AFP) - Myanmar remains an "integral part" of South-east Asia's regional bloc, Asean's outgoing chair Brunei insisted on Thursday (Oct 28), despite the coup-hit country's junta chief being left out from this year's annual talks.

The crisis in Myanmar, which is still in chaos following February's military takeover and subsequent deadly crackdown, dominated this week's virtual summit of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

Asean had invited a senior civil servant rather than junta chief Min Aung Hlaing to represent the country, in response to the junta's stonewalling of attempts to foster domestic dialogue amid Myanmar's political crisis.

The junta declined to appoint such a representative, but its foreign ministry on Tuesday night denied it was boycotting Asean. "Myanmar will continue to constructively cooperate with Asean, including in implementing the five-point consensus," it said.

Asean is facing calls to go further by suspending or even expelling Myanmar, but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, the summit host, instead sought to ease tensions.

"Myanmar is an integral part of the Asean family, and their membership has not been questioned," he told a press conference. "Asean will always be there for Myanmar."

However, he added that the 10-member group hopes "Myanmar will return to normalcy, in accordance with the will of its people".

Mr Saifuddin Abdullah, the foreign minister of member state Malaysia, hinted the junta could be barred from further meetings of the bloc.

Asked if Myanmar will join future talks, he responded: "That is a million dollar question which I cannot answer now."

"We would want to look at the implementation of the 'five-point consensus', " he added, referring to a roadmap to restore peace in Myanmar drawn up by Asean.

The bloc appointed its special envoy for Myanmar, Brunei's Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, in August after months of wrangling. But he is yet to visit the country after the regime's refusal to allow him to meet detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is facing a raft of charges in a junta court and could be jailed for decades.

Incoming Asean chair Cambodia said on Thursday it will push Myanmar's military rulers to open dialogue with its opponents, its foreign minister said yesterday.

Warning that Myanmar was on the "brink of civil war", Mr Prak Sokhonn said that Cambodia would appoint a new special envoy to Myanmar to start work early next year when it takes the reins of the regional body.

"While we all respect the principle of non-interference into domestic affairs of member states, the situation in Myanmar continues to be a subject of grave concern," he said. "(It) has negative impacts on the region, the credibility of the association and on the people of Myanmar, our brothers and sisters."

Mr Sokhonn said Cambodia endorsed the barring of Min Aung Hlaing, but added it was inappropriate to talk about continuing to exclude the general "at this point in time".

"Things may and shall evolve," he said. "It would depend much on Myanmar."

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Thursday congratulated Dr Noeleen Heyzer on her appointment as the UN Secretary-General's (UNSG) Special Envoy on Myanmar.

"Dr Heyzer has decades of wide experience and dedicated service to the United Nations. Singapore wishes Dr Heyzer all the best in her efforts to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the situation in Myanmar," an MFA spokesman said, in response to media queries.

"Singapore also wishes to express its deep appreciation to Christine Schraner Burgener for her sterling efforts during her term as the UNSG's Special Envoy on Myanmar since April 2018," the spokesman added.

Upon the conclusion of this week's Asean summits chaired by Brunei, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Thursday that the regional association and its partners had discussed ways to promote stability in Myanmar.

"Pleased that Asean and our partners have maintained intensive engagements to address common challenges such as Covid-19, post-pandemic recovery, and climate change. We also discussed ways to promote regional peace and stability, and the situation in Myanmar, " Dr Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post.

"We must continue to reinforce Asean unity and Centrality to become even more cohesive, confident and effective," he added.

He also said that Singapore will work with the incoming Asean chair Cambodia, expressing hope that the leaders can meet in person soon.

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