PHNOM PENH – Myanmar’s junta leader has not been invited to a regional summit in November, host Cambodia said Wednesday, in a fresh diplomatic snub for the isolated military regime.
The Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the turmoil that has gripped Myanmar since the military seized power in 2021.
But there has been little progress on a “five-point consensus” agreed with the junta, and its leader and ministers have been shut out of recent meetings of the 10-member regional bloc.
Linking the invitation to the peace plan, a Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the junta was invited to “nominate a non-political representative for the upcoming Asean Summits”.
This means junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would not be allowed to attend, just as his top diplomat was barred from gatherings of foreign ministers in Phnom Penh in February and August.
General Min Aung Hlaing and his junta have been barred from Asean and related meetings at least four times since the coup, including regional summits in October 2021 and the US-Asean special summit in Washington in September.
The five-point plan, agreed in April 2021, calls for an immediate end to violence and dialogue between the military and the anti-coup movement.
There is growing dissatisfaction within Asean – sometimes criticised as a toothless talking shop – at the Myanmar generals’ stonewalling. The junta’s execution of four prisoners in July, in defiance of widespread international calls for clemency, caused further anger.
August’s meeting of Asean foreign ministers ended with a rare condemnation from the bloc for the junta’s actions. 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”.
Asean’s own envoy tasked with brokering peace has admitted the scale of the task, saying “even Superman cannot solve” the crisis.
The regional bloc’s snub comes as Washington attempts to exert more pressure on the junta through the United Nations, following outrage over an air strike that killed 11 schoolchildren last month.
US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet held talks with other governments and with representatives of the self-declared National Unity Government – dominated by ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – during the UN General Assembly earlier this month.
Myanmar is planning fresh elections in August 2023, but Mr Chollet warned there was “no chance” they could be free and fair.
On Wednesday, a Myanmar military-linked party named a close ally of Gen Min Aung Hlaing as its leader, a further sign the junta is gearing up for elections.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) executive members elected Mr Khin Yi as the new chairman to replace Mr Than Htay, who resigned due to his health.
Mr Khin Yi, who served as the party’s acting chairman last month, is widely seen as a close ally of Gen Min Aung Hlaing. He was the immigration minister under the current administration until he stepped down in August during a Cabinet reshuffle, fueling speculation he would take up a bigger role in the party.
“We will make necessary arrangements to increase the number of party members, supporters, and those will back our party in various ways,” Mr Khin Yi said Wednesday.
The military-backed party won only 33 seats out of a total of 476 in Parliament in the 2020 polls. Ms Suu Kyi’s party won 396 seats, prompting the USDP to call for a fresh vote, citing election fraud.
This led to the military staging a coup in February 2021, which saw top civilian leaders arrested. Poll results were annulled, even though international observers said the elections were free and fair.
Myanmar is saddled with soaring inflation and shrinking foreign-currency reserves amid international sanctions. The World Bank has said the economy remains weak due to high inflation and worsening external pressures.
The military government is embroiled in conflicts with armed ethnic armies and supporters of Ms Suu Kyi.
Junta forces have killed more than 2,300 civilians and arrested over 15,700 others since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. AFP, BLOOMBERG