BANGKOK – Asean on Tuesday (Oct 26) convenes a leaders’ summit clouded by Myanmar’s political crisis after its unprecedented decision to bar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from the meeting.
South-east Asian foreign ministers, frustrated by the Myanmar regime’s stonewalling of attempts to foster domestic dialogue, chose instead to invite a “non-political representative” from Myanmar after an emergency meeting on Oct 15.
The military regime alleged “foreign intervention” and said the decision contravened Asean’s principle of non-interference in member states’ internal affairs.
“Myanmar will not be in a position to accept any outcome of the discussions and decisions which are ultra vires and contrary to the provisions, objectives and cherished principles of the Asean Charter,” its Foreign Ministry warned in a press statement issued last Friday.
Still, the military regime may appoint a civil servant under its control to join the 38th and 29th Asean summits and related meetings that the Asean ministers will hold with dialogue partners.
The meetings are chaired by Brunei, but will be held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Myanmar is now trapped in escalating violence amid broad resistance to the Feb 1 military coup that overthrew a civil government led by the National League for Democracy. Its leaders, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, are behind bars, standing trial for charges widely seen to be designed to bar them from politics.
Ousted lawmakers have regrouped under a shadow National Unity Government (NUG) that is rivalling the junta for international recognition as the rightful representative of Myanmar. Like the junta, the NUG has requested to represent Myanmar at the Asean summits.
The junta, which alleges fraud during Myanmar’s elections last November, calls the NUG an “armed terrorist group” and has ruled out negotiations with it. It has blocked Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, who is Asean’s designated envoy to Myanmar, from meeting Ms Suu Kyi.
As part of Asean’s “Five-Point Consensus” drawn up in April during an earlier emergency meeting in the presence of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Mr Erywan was due to travel to Myanmar to meet key political stakeholders to foster dialogue. The trip has not taken place.
It is unclear what will happen to the special envoy’s office after Cambodia takes over the chairmanship of Asean at the end of the summits on Thursday.
While Asean has not officially recognised the military regime as Myanmar’s government, ministers and civil servants under the junta’s control have so far been allowed to take part in official Asean meetings. The junta has, in turn, used images from such meetings to bolster its legitimacy.
Discussions about Myanmar’s status had sparked disagreement within Asean, which traditionally made decisions by consensus.
The United States last week called Asean’s decision to bar Gen Min Aung Hlaing from the summit “completely justified and warranted given the circumstances”.
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