ASEAN leaders say 'deeply concerned' about Myanmar violence

·3-min read
The turmoil in junta-ruled Myanmar has dominated talks at the ASEAN summit in Indonesia
The turmoil in junta-ruled Myanmar has dominated talks at the ASEAN summit in Indonesia

Southeast Asian nations said Wednesday they are "deeply concerned" about the violence ravaging Myanmar, and condemned a recent attack on a convoy of diplomats delivering humanitarian aid in the country.

Turmoil in junta-ruled Myanmar has dominated talks at this week's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Indonesia, as the regional bloc faces criticism for its perceived inaction.

ASEAN has led diplomatic attempts to resolve the festering crisis, but its efforts so far have failed to stem the bloodshed unleashed by a military coup in 2021.

"We were deeply concerned with ongoing violence in Myanmar and urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force to create a conducive environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues," ASEAN leaders said in a statement.

The junta has ignored international criticism and refused to engage with its opponents, which include ousted lawmakers, anti-coup "People's Defence Forces" and armed ethnic minority groups.

An air strike on a village in a rebel stronghold last month that reportedly killed about 170 people sparked global condemnation and worsened the junta's isolation.

Pressure on the regional bloc increased Sunday after a convoy of vehicles carrying diplomats and officials coordinating ASEAN humanitarian relief in Myanmar came under fire.

Singapore and Indonesia said earlier that staff from their embassies in Myanmar were in the vehicles that came under fire in eastern Shan State but were unharmed.

"We condemned the attack and underlined that the perpetrators must be held accountable," ASEAN leaders said in their statement.

Addressing the summit Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he was "confident" the 10-member bloc could deal with growing global challenges if its members were united.

"With unity, ASEAN will be able to play a central role in bringing peace and growth," Widodo said through a translator as he opened the leaders' session of the summit.

- Low expectations -

Foreign ministers and national leaders meeting on the Indonesian island of Flores are trying to kickstart a five-point plan agreed upon with Myanmar two years ago after mediation attempts to end the violence failed.

Myanmar remains an ASEAN member but has been barred from top-level summits due to the junta's failure to implement the peace plan.

Diplomatic sources told AFP that the foreign ministers of some countries, which they did not name, had suggested eventually inviting back the junta, citing "Myanmar fatigue".

Jakarta's chairmanship of the bloc this year had raised hopes ASEAN could push for a peaceful solution, using its economic weight as well as its diplomatic experience.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Friday that her country was using "quiet diplomacy" to speak with all sides of the Myanmar conflict and spur renewed peace efforts.

But Indonesia was running out of time to achieve a breakthrough, said Lina Alexandra, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

After the next leaders' summit in September, Alexandra added, Indonesia will hand the bloc's influential chairmanship to communist-ruled Laos, which could bring Myanmar back "into the fold" and allow the junta to attend ASEAN summits.

"It is time for Indonesia to show that it can do what it should do," she said.

ASEAN's charter principles of consensus and non-interference have hamstrung its ability to stop the violence in Myanmar, which critics say poses an existential threat to the bloc.

Divisions among its members over Myanmar and other issues, including China's growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea, have undermined the bloc.

On Wednesday, diplomats were fine-tuning an implementation plan for the peace process that would be announced by their leaders on Thursday.

The latest draft of the end-of-summit statement seen by AFP has left the paragraph on Myanmar open, reflecting diplomatic difficulties over the issue.

Expectations for progress were low.

"I don't think that there's going to be very much there that will surprise people," said Aaron Connelly, an analyst for International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.