Myanmar generals banned from ASEAN until peace plan progress

Foreign ministers express disappointment at military administration’s failure to implement crisis plan agreed upon in April 2021.

Group photo of ASEAN foreign ministers lined up on stage in Cambodia
(L-R) Malaysia's Saifuddin Abdullah, the Philippines' Theresa Lazaro, Singapore's Vivian Balakrishnan, Thailand's Don Pramudwinai, Vietnam's Bui Thanh Son, Cambodia’s Hun Sen and Prak Sokhonn, Indonesia's Retno Marsudi, Brunei's Erywan Yusof, Laos's Saleumxay Kommasith, and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi pose for a family picture during the opening ceremony for the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, on August 3, 2022 [Photo by Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP]

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to bar Myanmar’s ruling generals from the group’s meetings until they make progress on a 15-month-old plan to address the crisis triggered by the military coup.

Speaking at a press conference at the end of a series of ASEAN regional meetings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s foreign minister Prak Sokhonn, who is also a special envoy on Myanmar, said the generals “must act in a way that shows progress is made, then we will be able to act on a decision to show progress”.

On Friday, the foreign ministers condemned the lack of progress in the so-called Five-Point Consensus that was agreed upon with army chief and coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in April 2021, and demanded the self-proclaimed State Administration Council (SAC) take action to comply with the plan before a regional summit in November.

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”.

And in a veiled warning to Myanmar’s military authorities, the statement – referencing Article 20 of the ASEAN Charter – noted the leaders’ meeting later this year could still take action over “non-compliance”.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the military detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officials in February 2021 and seized power for themselves.

The coup prompted a mass civil disobedience movement, nationwide protests and the formation of anti-coup armed groups to which the military has responded with brutal force.

Some 2,158 people have been killed by the armed forces since the coup, and anger has grown over the generals’ intransigence, particularly after the execution last month of four political prisoners.

Military rejects statement

In a foreign ministry statement published on the front page of the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Saturday, the military said it rejected ASEAN’s communique and would continue to follow its own “five-point plan”, which was printed next to the statement on the paper’s front page.

“Myanmar believes that ASEAN can maintain its unity and centrality in the long-term only if all ASEAN member states respect the provisions and basic principles of the ASEAN Charter, especially equality, inclusiveness, sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member States,” it said.

The military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, was not invited to Phnom Penh and was also left out of a foreign ministers’ retreat in February, while Min Aung Hlaing was snubbed at last year’s leaders’ summit.

The ASEAN foreign ministers also condemned last month’s executions of Phyo Zeya Thaw, a rapper-turned-politician who was a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, and veteran political activist Kyaw Min Yu, who was popularly known as Ko Jimmy.

Malaysia has been leading calls for a tougher approach to Myanmar’s military administration, and has also called for the group to engage with the National Unity Government (NUG) established by the elected politicians the generals removed from power.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore have also pushed for a firmer line.

The Five-Point Consensus called for an immediate end to violence, the appointment of a special envoy and discussions involving all stakeholders. Friday’s ASEAN statement stressed the envoy must be allowed to meet with “all relevant stakeholders”.

The SAC did not allow the first ASEAN envoy, Brunei’s foreign minister, to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, and has not allowed Prak Sokhonn to do so, either.

The Nobel laureate has been jailed after a trial in a closed court, and faces a raft of charges that could put her behind bars for years.

Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997 under a previous military regime.

The SAC has sought to frame those opposing its power grab as “terrorists”.

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of military attacks, while human rights experts have accused the military of war crimes for attacks on civilians.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies