Countries from Southeast Asia are discussing not inviting the head of Myanmar’s military regime to their leaders’ summit later this month, after the generals failed to make progress on an agreed road map to restore peace after their February coup plunged the country into chaos, a regional envoy has said.
The military’s failure to act on a five-point plan it agreed to in April with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was “tantamount to backtracking”, Erywan Yusof, the group’s special envoy to Myanmar, told a news conference on Wednesday.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power on February 1, ending 10 years of tentative steps towards democracy and sparking widespread protests and a mass movement of civil disobedience.
Erywan, the second foreign minister of Brunei, ASEAN’s current chair, said the bloc was “deep in discussions” about not inviting the military government to participate in a virtual summit that is scheduled to start on October 26.
“Up until today, there has been no progress on the implementation of the five-point consensus, and this has raised a concern,” Erywan said.
Myanmar military government spokesman Zaw Min Tun did not respond to calls from Reuters news agency on Wednesday. Last week, he told a news conference that Myanmar was cooperating with ASEAN “without compromising the country’s sovereignty”.
The bloc’s effort to engage with Myanmar’s military has been criticised by supporters of democracy, and the National Unity Government (NUG), the shadow administration set up by politicians who were thrown out of office by the generals.
Dialogue with ‘all parties’
Still, there are signs that some countries within the 10-member grouping are growing frustrated.
Saifuddin Abdullah, Malaysia’s foreign minister, told the country’s parliament on Wednesday that if the military continued to ignore ASEAN’s attempt at conflict resolution Kuala Lumpur would not support Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance at the summit.
Responding to a follow-up question on whether Malaysia might be prepared to engage with the shadow civilian administration, Saifuddin said Malaysia might consider dialogue with the NUG “if what was agreed in the consensus cannot be achieved”.
More than 1,000 people have been killed since the generals overthrew the government of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and thousands have been detained. Some opponents of the coup have set up their armed groups to fight the military while the NUG has declared a “defensive” war against the armed forces.
Excluding a leader from the summit would be a big step for ASEAN, which operates under the principle of consensus decision-making and quiet engagement rather than confrontation. It admitted Myanmar to the group in July 1997 when the country had been under military rule for more than 30 years.
Erywan said the military government had not directly responded to his requests to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained since February and faces a number of court trials.
He added that he had proposed a programme for his visit to Myanmar to the military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin last week, but the military government had not yet responded.
Eric Paulsen, a lawyer and Malaysia’s representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), said a tougher approach to which Malaysia hinted could force the generals into cooperation.
“Make no mistake, despite the junta’s tough talk on ‘walking with few friends’ or that they are used to international sanctions & isolation, they crave legitimacy & values ASEAN membership and cooperation,” he wrote on Twitter.