Myanmar decries move to block junta leader from Asean summit

YANGON (REUTERS, AFP) – Myanmar’s military government said on Friday (Oct 22) it rejected a decision by its South-east Asian neighbours to invite only a non-political figure to an upcoming regional summit in a snub to the leader of the Feb 1 coup.

The junta’s foreign ministry said in a press release that the heads of state or government of Myanmar enjoyed equal and full rights to participate in summits of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The next summit is due on Oct 26-28. It is not clear who, if anybody, will now represent Myanmar at the meeting.

“Myanmar will not be in a position to accept any outcome of the discussions and decisions which are…contrary to the provisions, objectives and cherished principles of the Asean Charter,” the foreign ministry said in its release.

More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by Myanmar security forces and thousands arrested, according to the United Nations, amid a crackdown on strikes and protests which has derailed the country’s tentative democracy and prompted international condemnation.

Myanmar’s junta has said those death tolls are exaggerated.

International pressure had been mounting on Asean for a harder line against Myanmar’s failure to take agreed steps to end violence, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue with its opponents, in line with an Asean “consensus” reached in April.

The decision taken by Asean foreign ministers at an emergency meeting last Friday was an unusually bold step for the consensus-driven bloc, which traditionally favours a policy of engagement and non-interference.

Ministers at last Friday’s meeting were divided between sticking to a tradition of non-interference and the need to retain credibility by sanctioning coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, who has led the crackdown on dissent since seizing power from Myanmar’s civilian government, sources with knowledge of the talks told Reuters.

The junta said after the meeting that the Asean’s decision went against its longtime principles.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s military-aligned party urged on Friday for the junta to open dialogue with coup opponents, as the generals face increasing pressure to end nearly nine months of bloody turmoil.

“We must talk for the interest of all our people in the country… It will be difficult to find a solution if we continue like this,” Nandar Hla Myint, spokesman for the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party, told AFP.

“Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing took responsibility for the country… His caretaker government is the most responsible for making the dialogue happen,” he said.

While Nandar Hla Myint did not say whether discussions should include ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he pointed out that the Nobel laureate has not encouraged violence from the junta’s opponents.

More on this topic

Her National League for Democracy party trounced the USDP in elections last year, which the military has alleged was due to fraud.

The junta, which has since dubbed itself the State Administration Council, has said it will hold fresh elections in 2023 – but Nandar Hla Myint said the poll could see more bloodshed if the crisis is unresolved.

“More people will be killed if there are no guarantees for lives… of candidates who will compete in the (next) election,” he said.

Nine months after seizing power, and unable to stamp out opposition to their regime, the generals are under increasing international pressure to engage with their opponents.

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