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In major rebuke, ASEAN foreign ministers downgrade Myanmar's presence in summit - Know more here

03:40 PM Oct 16, 2021 | FPJ Web Desk

Kuala Lumpur: The foreign ministers of Southeast Asian countries have agreed to downgrade Myanmar's participation in an upcoming summit in their sharpest rebuke yet of its military junta leaders following a February 1 takeover.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) agreed to invite a non-political representative from Myanmar instead of Gen Min Aung Hlaing. It is a unprecedented move for the 10-member bloc, which traditionally avoids interfering in its members' affairs, the grouping's chair Brunei said Saturday.

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The 10-member bloc has been under intense international pressure to do more 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 ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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ASEAN foreign ministers held an emergency meeting late Friday after Myanmar refused to cooperate with the bloc's crisis envoy, Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof. He was appointed in August to mediate in the crisis but abruptly cancelled a trip to Myanmar this week after he was told he would not be able to meet with Suu Kyi and others as he wanted.

Myanmar contended Erywan could not meet with people facing legal proceedings such as Suu Kyi and deposed President Win Myint or with entities that have been declared illegal, Brunei said in a statement.

The statement from Brunei said the ASEAN ministers were concerned about the impact of the Myanmar crisis on regional security and about the "unity, credibility and centrality of ASEAN as a rules-based organisation".

The bloc's envoy must have access to all concerned parties, it said.

Myanmar military takeover

The military is now back in charge in Myanmar and declared a year-long state of emergency after it seized control on February 1 following a general election which Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party won by a landslide, as per a BBC report.

The armed forces backed the opposition demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud. The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims. The coup took place as a new session of parliament was set to open.

Suu Kyi and other top civilian leaders were detained in the army takeover. She now faces various charges that her supporters and independent analysts say are an attempt to legitimise the military action.

Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken power. The military says it will hold a "free and fair" election once the state of emergency is over. Myanmar is widely seen as doing very little to honour its commitments, though it claims to have helped facilitate humanitarian assistance.

ASEAN summit invitation

Members of the political opposition's National Unity Government, which views itself as a shadow government, have asked to attend the Oct 26-28 Asean summit, it said.

In handling Myanmar, ASEAN has been hamstrung by its bedrock policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations and its consensus decision-making. Some member countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines feel action is justified because major unrest in Myanmar could trigger regional instability.

There was no consensus among the ASEAN foreign ministers about having a political representative from Myanmar at the summit, so the ministers decided to instead invite a non-political representative to give Myanmar "space to restore its internal affairs and return to normalcy," it added.

"This was a difficult but necessary decision to uphold ASEAN's credibility given the unsatisfactory and highly limited progress" to resolve the crisis, Singapore's foreign ministry said in a statement. Officials did not say who would be invited instead.

Letting Min Aung Hlaing attend the summit, which will take place by video, might be seen as recognition of the military takeover, which halted one of Asia's most phenomenal democratic transitions after decades of military rule.

Among world leaders due to participate is President Joe Biden, who has condemned the takeover and authorized sanctions against Myanmar's generals, their family members and associates.

The US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, the European Union and United Kingdom on Friday issued a joint statement of support for the ASEAN envoy. They urged Myanmar to work constructively with Erywan and let him meet with parties concerned.

With Agencies inputs

Also Read: Indonesia urges ASEAN to quickly appoint envoy for Myanmar

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