ASEAN at ‘crossroads’ as violence in Myanmar escalates

LABUAN BAJO, Indonesia: Southeast Asian countries are at a ‘crossroads’, a senior Indonesian minister warned on Tuesday, as escalating violence in junta-controlled Myanmar looms at regional summit .
Myanmar has been wracked by deadly violence since a military coup toppled the government of Aung San Suu Kyi more than two years ago and sparked a bloody crackdown on dissent.
THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – long derided by critics as a toothless conversation store – has spearheaded diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis.
These efforts have been in vain, as the junta ignores international criticism and refuses to engage with its opponents, which include ousted lawmakers, anti-coup ‘people’s defense forces’ and ethnic minority armed groups. .
An airstrike on a village in a rebel stronghold last month that reportedly killed around 170 people sparked global condemnation and deepened the junta’s isolation.
It has also fueled calls for ASEAN to take tougher action to end the violence or risk being sidelined.
“ASEAN is at a crossroads,” Mahfud MD, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, warned on Tuesday, the first day of the summit.
“Crisis after crisis tests our strength as a community. And not addressing it would risk undermining our relevance,” he said according to a copy of his remarks, listing Myanmar among the emergencies facing the bloc.
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that last month’s airstrike in the central region of Sagaing was a “probable war crime”, and urged ASEAN to “signal its support for tougher measures to cut cash flow army and put pressure on the junta to reform”.
Pressure on the regional bloc increased on Sunday after a convoy of vehicles carrying diplomats and officials coordinating ASEAN humanitarian aid to Myanmar came under fire.
Few details have been released about the shooting in Myanmar’s eastern Shan state, but both Indonesia and Singapore have confirmed that members of their embassies in Yangon were among the group.
Singapore said its two staff members were unharmed. He condemned the attack in a statement late Monday.
Indonesia, which chairs ASEAN this year, said two of its diplomats were in the vehicles and were “in good condition”.
The shooting took place a few days before May 9-11 ASEAN Summit on the Indonesian island of Flores, where foreign ministers and national leaders will continue their efforts to launch a five-point plan agreed with Myanmar two years ago after failed mediation attempts to end the violence.
Foreign ministers held talks on Tuesday while their countries’ leaders were due to meet on Wednesday and Thursday.
Before officials arrived in Labuan Bajo, the army deployed more than 9,000 men and warships to the small fishing town that serves as the entrance to Komodo National Park, where tourists can see the largest lizards of the world.
In her opening remarks on Tuesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said ministers had already discussed “the implementation” of the peace plan, but she did not give details.
A Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP Sunday’s shooting “raises the Myanmar emergency as a key talking point at this summit.”
The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about the shooting and urged the junta to “meaningfully implement the five-point consensus”.
Myanmar remains a member of ASEAN but has been excluded from high-level summits due to the junta’s failure to implement the peace plan.
There was a vacant seat for Myanmar at Tuesday’s foreign ministers’ meeting.
Marsudi said on Friday that his country was using “quiet diplomacy” to talk with all parties to the conflict in Myanmar and stimulate new peace efforts.
ASEAN has long been criticized for its inaction, but its initiatives are limited by its charter’s principles of consensus and non-interference.
Other countries, such as China and some ASEAN member countries, have taken the initiative to try to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.
Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo on Tuesday welcomed international support for the bloc’s efforts on Myanmar, but said the resolution should “remain ASEAN-led”.
US-based analyst Zachary Abuza said the group was unlikely to offer more than “another statement of milquetoast condemnation” despite Sunday’s attack.
“If a diplomat had been killed, there would have been more pressure on the organization to do something, but frankly they’ve been so reckless over the past two years that it’s hard to see them actually act to significantly,” Abuza told AFP. .


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