Myanmar says 'extremely disappointed' its junta leader excluded from Asean summit

Asean will exclude Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing from an online summit later this month. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP, REUTERS) - Myanmar's junta said yesterday it was "extremely disappointed" with Asean's decision to exclude its leader Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming summit, amid concerns by the regional bloc over his military government's commitment to solving a deadly political stalemate.

"Myanmar is extremely disappointed and strongly objected (to) the outcomes of the emergency foreign ministers meeting, as the discussions and decision on Myanmar's representation issue was done without consensus and was against the objectives of Asean," the Myanmar Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, a spokesman for Myanmar's military government blamed "foreign intervention" for the rare exclusion of its junta leader from a regional leaders' summit later this month.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told the BBC Burmese news service that the United States and representatives of the European Union had pressured other leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to exclude the military leader from the Oct 26-28 summit.

"The foreign interventions can also be seen here," he said.

"Before, we learned that some envoys from some countries met with US foreign affairs and received pressure from EU."

The decision taken by the Asean foreign ministers at an emergency meeting on Friday night that delivered an unprecedented snub to General Min Aung Hlaing, marks a rare bold step for the consensus-driven bloc, which has traditionally favoured a policy of engagement and non-interference.

Singapore's foreign ministry said on Saturday (Oct 16) the move to exclude the junta chief was a "difficult, but necessary, decision to uphold Asean's credibility".

The statement cited a lack of progress made on a roadmap to restore peace in Myanmar that the junta had agreed to with Asean in April.

More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by Myanmar security forces with thousands of others arrested, according to the United Nations, amid a crackdown on strikes and protests which has derailed the country's tentative democracy and prompted international condemnation.

The junta says those estimates of the death toll are exaggerated.

Asean's current chair Brunei said a non-political figure from Myanmar would be invited to the late-October summit, after no consensus was reached for a political representative to attend.

"As there had been insufficient progress... as well as concerns over Myanmar's commitment, in particular on establishing constructive dialogue among all concerned parties, some Asean Member States recommended that Asean give space to Myanmar to restore its internal affairs and return to normalcy," Brunei said in a statement.

It did not mention Min Aung Hlaing or name who would be invited in his stead.

Brunei said some member states had received requests from Myanmar's National Unity Government, formed by opponents of the junta, to attend the summit.

'Justified downgrade'

Asean has faced increasing international pressure to take a tougher stand against Myanmar, having been criticised in the past for its ineffectiveness in dealing with leaders accused of rights abuses, subverting democracy and intimidating political opponents.

A US State Department official told reporters on Friday that it was "perfectly appropriate and in fact completely justified" for Asean to downgrade Myanmar's participation at the coming summit.

Singapore in its statement urged Myanmar to cooperate with Asean's envoy, Brunei's second foreign affairs minister Erywan Yusof.

Mr Erywan has delayed a long-planned visit to the country in recent weeks and has asked to meet all parties in Myanmar, including deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the coup.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said this week Mr Erywan would be welcome in Myanmar, but would not be allowed to meet Ms Suu Kyi because she is charged with crimes.

Malaysia's foreign minister said it would be up to the Myanmar junta to decide on an alternate representative to the summit.

"We never thought of removing Myanmar from Asean, we believe Myanmar has the same rights (as us)," foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters according to Bernama state news agency.

"But the junta has not cooperated, so Asean must be strong in defending its credibility and integrity," he added.

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