KUALA LUMPUR – Southeast Asia’s foreign ministers decided at an emergency meeting Friday not to invite Myanmar's military leader to an annual summit for refusing to let an envoy meet ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a senior regional diplomat said.
The move by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is the biggest rebuke for Myanmar so far since the Feb. 1 military takeover toppled a civilian government led by Suu Kyi. The 10-member bloc has been under intense international pressure to take decisive action to force member state Myanmar to halt the violence that has left more than 1,100 civilians dead and free scores of political figures, including Suu Kyi.
ASEAN appointed Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof in August as its special envoy to mediate in the crisis. However, he abruptly canceled his trip to Myanmar this week after being informed that he would not be able to meet Suu Kyi and others as he wanted. Myanmar officials have said Erywan couldn’t meet with Suu Kyi because of criminal charges against her.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi tweeted that there was “no significant progress" toward resolving the crisis. She said Indonesia proposed during Friday's meeting that Myanmar “should not be represented at the political level until Myanmar restore its democracy through an inclusive process."
Erywan, who hosted Friday's meeting, later announced that there was no consensus to invite Senior Gen. Min Aun Hlaing to the Oct. 26-28 summit meetings, a Southeast Asian diplomat told The Associated Press.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly, said Brunei will instead issue an invitation for a non-political representative to the summit. Erywan will also postpone his visit to Myanmar until after the summit, the diplomat said.
“I think the ministers believe that inviting the general will further damage ASEAN’s credibility in the international community," the diplomat said, adding that this however doesn't amount to suspending Myanmar.
Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin calmly disagreed with ASEAN’s decision and reiterated that Erywan can’t meet with Suu Kyi and deposed President Win Myint because they are undergoing legal proceedings, the diplomat said. Brunei is expected to make a formal announcement on Saturday.
Allowing Min Aung Hlaing to attend the ASEAN summit, which will take place by video, could be perceived as recognition of the military takeover that abruptly halted one of Asia’s most phenomenal democratic transitions in recent history after decades of military rule. Among world leaders due to attend the summit is President Joe Biden, who has condemned the democratic setback and authorized sanctions against Myanmar’s generals, their family members and associates.
Myanmar is widely seen as doing very little to honor its commitments, though it claims to have helped facilitate humanitarian assistance. Suu Kyi has been in detention since the army takeover, and is currently being tried on several charges that her supporters and independent analysts say are an attempt to legitimize the military action.
Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, the European Union, the U.S. and United Kingdom separately issued a joint statement of support for the ASEAN envoy. They urged Myanmar to engage constructively with Erywan and provide him access to all parties.
The decision to exclude Myanmar's military leader is the boldest decision so far by ASEAN, which has been hamstrung by its bedrock policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations and its consensus decision-making. But some member countries feel action is justified because major unrest in Myanmar could trigger regional instability.
Earlier Friday, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said Malaysia will not compromise. “If there is no real progress, then Malaysia’s stance will remain, that we will not want the general to be attending the summit,” he said.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has also warned that “if we relent in any way, our credibility as a real regional organization disappears.” Locsin has demanded Myanmar’s return to its political order before the Feb. 1 military takeover but stressed during an online forum Thursday with Australia's Lowy Institute that Myanmar’s army is essential to its stability.
“We can’t move forward, unless you go back to the way it was,” Locsin said, but added that “without the army ... Myanmar will become what they may give you: a hellhole of anarchy.”
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Grant Peck in Bangkok and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.