ASEAN urges Myanmar to end violence

Southeast Asian leaders have met without Myanmar amid a diplomatic standoff.
Southeast Asian leaders have met without Myanmar amid a diplomatic standoff.

South-East Asian leaders have urged Myanmar's military to make good on its commitment to end violence and restore democracy in their country

Leaders of the Association of the South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) met online for their annual summit on Tuesday, but the chief of Myanmar's junta was barred from attending the meeting due to failure to take steps to restore democracy after the February 1 coup.

At the end of the summit, Brunei, which currently has the group's chair, issued a statement saying that regional leaders called on Myanmar to abide by a five-point consensus agreed at an emergency meeting in April. That meeting was attended by Myanmar's military ruler, Min Aung Hlaing.

The consensus includes "the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar" and a call for visit by an ASEAN special envoy and delegation to Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned, the chair's statement said.

Tuesday's summit also "heard calls for the release of political detainees including foreigners" in Myanmar, it said.

"Constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people," the statement continued, adding that the ASEAN special envoy, Erywan Yusof of Brunei, will facilitate the process.

At their meeting earlier this month, ASEAN foreign ministers agreed to exclude Min Aung Hlaing from the summit and opted to invite a non-political representative.

But no Myanmar representative was present at Tuesday's meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in his speech, expressed regrets for Myanmar's failure to implement the five-point consensus, Retno said.

"Access requested by the ASEAN special envoy, to be able to meet with all relevant parties [in Myanmar], until the final moments leading up to the summit, had not been granted by the Myanmar military," Retno said.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Myanmar's rulers "to immediately release all political detainees" and to work with ASEAN to "facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Myanmar people."

Retno said the decision to disinvite Myanmar's junta was "hard, but one that had to be done."

"The people of Myanmar have the right to live in peace and prosperity and Indonesia has consistently hoped that democracy through an inclusive process can be quickly restored in Myanmar," she said.

According to rights groups, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed by soldiers in Myanmar during anti-coup protests since the military takeover, which toppled the civilian government led by 1991 Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

US President Joe Biden also spoke with the gathered leaders from Washington, announcing new initiatives and projects in the region worth over 100 million US dollars.

Biden emphasised the importance of the US-ASEAN relationship, apparently seeking to repair the damage to ties caused by former president Donald Trump's decision to stay away from the summit for three years running.

The Biden administration has redoubled its efforts to engage with the region, seeing it as an important component of its foreign policy and also in an attempt to check China's growing influence there.

Australian Associated Press