ASEAN foreign ministers repeat condemnation of Myanmar violence

July 14, 2023 - 1:23 PM
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The seat reserved for Myanmar is left empty during plenary season of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Minister’s Meeting at Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 11, 2023. (Reuters/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Pool)

 Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Thursday reiterated condemnation of ongoing violence in Myanmar, as an intensifying conflict there tests the unity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Myanmar, one of the bloc’s 10 members, has been beset by fighting since the military seized power in early 2021 before unleashing a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy opponents, prompting retaliatory attacks by a resistance movement and ethnic minority armies.

“We strongly condemned the continued acts of violence, including air strikes, artillery shelling, and destruction of public facilities,” ASEAN’s top diplomats said in a joint communique released late on Thursday after an unexplained delay.

Meeting chair Indonesia had on Wednesday urged the group’s foreign ministers to remain united in tackling the escalating violence in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s military leaders have refused to implement a five-point peace planwhich calls for a halt to violence and inclusive dialogue and was agreed shortly after they mounted their coup, and Malaysia had called for stronger condemnation.

The ministers also “urged all parties involved to take concrete action to immediately halt indiscriminate violence, denounce any escalation, and create a conducive environment for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogue.”

They said they discussed the South China Sea, where several members have overlapping maritime claims with China, the region’s increasingly powerful neighbor.

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi attended ASEAN-related meetings in Jakarta this week and also held bilateral talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Without naming China, ASEAN foreign ministers said “concerns were expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations, activities, serious incidents in the area, including actions that put the safety of all persons at risk.”

Rifts within ASEAN over Myanmar were highlighted when Thailand invited Myanmar military officials to a meeting last month aimed at “re-engaging” with the junta.

Junta officials have been barred from high-level ASEAN meetings due to the lack of progress on the five-point plan.

Most ASEAN members shunned the meeting, which Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai defended, saying his country was suffering in terms of its border, trade and refugee problems.

Don said on Wednesday he had recently met Myanmar’s jailed former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the first foreign official to be granted access to the Nobel laureate since her detention by the military more than two years ago.

The ASEAN ministers said they were “briefed by Thailand on its recent activities on Myanmar, which a number of ASEAN Member States viewed as a positive development.”

Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, made up of loyalists to Suu Kyi’s ousted administration, has discouraged ASEAN from engaging with the junta unless it releases all political prisoners.

—Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Simon Lewis, A. Ananthalakshmi, Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishan and Nick Macfie