Southeast Asian leaders (ASEAN) have condemned an attack by alleged Myanmar military forces on an aid convoy for displaced persons in Myanmar, urging for an urgent cessation of violence and compliance by the military administration with a peace plan on Wednesday.
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began a two-day summit in the scenic harbour town of Labuan Bajo in southern Indonesia. President Joko Widodo, who hosted them, urged for unity in the face of global economic headwinds and major-power rivalries roiling the region.
International pressure has mounted on the 10-nation grouping to address the Myanmar problem adequately. However, ASEAN countries were divided on how to continue, with some advising easing punitive measures aimed at isolating Myanmar’s generals and inviting the country’s top diplomats and officials back to high-profile summit meetings. “Isolation has served its purpose,” according to an internal ASEAN assessment obtained by The Associated Press.
Over the weekend, a convoy carrying Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats and providing relief to evacuated villagers came under fire in Myanmar’s eastern Shan state. According to state-run television MRTV, a security crew with the convoy returned fire, and a car was damaged, but no one was injured.
After a lengthy review, Indonesia, which chairs ASEAN this year, arranged for the relief delivery.
“We condemned the attack and stressed the importance of holding the perpetrators accountable,” the ASEAN leaders said in a joint statement.
Myanmar’s top general was not invited to the summit for the second year in a row. Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing led the army in seizing power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic government in February 2021, throwing the country into civil strife and becoming ASEAN’s gravest crisis since its inception in 1967.
ASEAN leaders stated that they are “deeply concerned with the ongoing violence in Myanmar and have urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force in order to create a conducive environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues.”
However, ahead of the summit, some foreign ministers suggested that the group reengage Myanmar’s military-led State Administration Council and “bring Myanmar back to ASEAN foreign ministers’ meetings and summits, noting that the time for isolation has served its purpose,” according to an ASEAN report. Despite international outcry over the country’s ongoing military attacks, it did not identify the countries advocating for more tolerance towards Myanmar.
The offer for ASEAN to admit Myanmar back into the fold was “noted,” according to the report, implying that it did not gain unanimous consent from all ministers.
According to the article, the ministerial meetings emphasised that the Myanmar problem should not impede ASEAN’s progress towards establishing a regional community, citing one assessment that there would be no near-term solution to the Myanmar crisis.
“There was also an observation that ASEAN might be experiencing ‘Myanmar fatigue,′ which could distract ASEAN from larger goals of ASEAN community-building,” according to the paper. “Patience, flexibility, and creativity will thus be required, as there will be no quick fix to the crisis.”
Concerns about expanding international crimes, such as human trafficking and illegal drug manufacture, were mentioned in the study without further explanation. Worryingly, there was “a call to all parties to stop the influx of arms and financial funding into Myanmar, which leads to an escalation of the conflict.”
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which maintains track of casualties and arrests tied to the military government’s persecution, more than 3,450 civilians have been slain by security forces since the 2021 Myanmar coup, and thousands more remain imprisoned.
According to witnesses quoted by Human Rights Watch, a military bombing in April killed more than 160 people, including many children, who were attending a ceremony by opponents of army authority. On Tuesday, the group called the attack, in which the military dropped a lethal thermobaric or vacuum bomb, a “apparent war crime.”
Since taking over as ASEAN’s rotating head, Indonesia has toned down its harsh condemnation of Myanmar’s military. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stated that her country is using “non-megaphone diplomacy” to foster dialogue and eliminate bloodshed, which are goals of a five-point peace plan reached by the leaders with Myanmar’s military leader in 2021.
Widodo is to deliver a post-summit declaration on behalf of the ASEAN leaders, renewing a plea for moderation in the disputed South China Sea, echoing wording used in past ASEAN statements.
“Concerns were expressed by some ASEAN member states about land reclamations, activities, and serious incidents in the area, including damage to the marine environment, which has eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region,” according to a draught of the communique.