SINGAPORE – Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) decided on Friday to exclude the military leadership of Myanmar from the regional group’s summit meeting, scheduled for Oct. 26 to 28, in favor of a non-political representative, an association source said.
The decision marks a historic shift for ASEAN from its principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member countries.
At an emergency online meeting, the ministers agreed not to invite Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who led a military coup in February that ousted Myanmar’s elected government under civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the source added.
Brunei, this year’s chair of the 10-member ASEAN, is expected to issue a statement Saturday on the emergency meeting, according to an association source.
ASEAN has been facing pressure from the United States to take a tougher stance on the issue.
Some member countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, proposed in the emergency meeting that Myanmar’s military leader not be allowed to participate in the summit over a lack of cooperation from the military government, including failing to cooperate with Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, an appointed ASEAN special envoy for Myanmar, on a proposed visit to the country to request full access for the association to the parties in conflict.
Brunei’s envoy tasked with visiting Myanmar ahead of the summit had not fixed a schedule for the trip and still needed to “work out with Myanmar the program such as whom to meet,” said ASEAN source, adding that Myanmar’s foreign minister reiterated the difficulty of allowing the envoy to meet Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others who were ousted by the military.
Efforts to negotiate with the junta for the visit on ASEAN’s terms ended unsuccessfully earlier this week.
The military government said in a statement on Thursday that the special envoy had “proposed a list of names of individuals with whom he wishes to meet and other actions required from Myanmar for his visit.” But it said that “some requests which go beyond the permission of existing laws will be difficult to accommodate.”
ASEAN seems divided on how to deal with Myanmar, with some countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines calling for a tougher stance, while others prefer a softer approach.
“Different views were shared among ASEAN member nations, however, the majority preferred a non-political figure to represent Myanmar at the summit while one or two said that it should be foreign ministers level at most,” said the ASEAN source.
The foreign minister of one member country suggested during the meeting that as a face-saving measure, the Myanmar military leader should send a letter to ASEAN through his foreign minister to say he is too busy to attend the summit, the source said.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi tweeted that she proposed the participation of Myanmar at the summit “should not be represented at the political level until Myanmar restore its democracy through an inclusive process.”
Thailand’s foreign ministry spokesperson said Friday that “Thailand views Myanmar as a member of the ASEAN family” and expressed hope that the visit by the special envoy will happen soon.
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