LABUAN BAJO, Indonesia – Southeast Asian leaders meeting in Indonesia called on Wednesday for an immediate end to hostilities in military-ruled Myanmar, in an effort to create a window for urgent dialogue and aid delivery as fighting intensifies.
The summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was expected to see wrangling over the bloody crisis in Myanmar, with patience wearing thin as its junta demonstrates no intent to pursue a peace plan agreed with the 10-member bloc two years ago.
“We were deeply concerned with ongoing violence in Myanmar and urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force,” said a statement from the leaders.
They sought the creation of “a conducive environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues.”
The meeting takes place as Myanmar‘s military intensifies attacks and air strikes on resistance forces and ethnic minority rebels as it tries to consolidate power ahead of a planned election.
It also comes days after a unknown assailants shot at a convoy of regional diplomats and aid workers in Myanmar bringing supplies to some of the more than 1 million people displaced by conflict since a 2021 coup.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the current ASEAN chair, earlier said the bloc should speak up and speak as one on its most challenging issues.
“Will ASEAN only be silent or will ASEAN be able to become the driver or peace or growth?”, he said.
ASEAN, which has a policy of non-interference in its members affairs, has become increasingly assertive with Myanmar‘s junta over its failure to implement a five-point peace “consensus” that its top general agreed to with ASEAN a few month after his coup sparked chaos.
ASEAN has barred the generals from high-level meetings until they execute the peace plan, which includes ceasing hostilities, starting dialogue and allowing full humanitarian access.
Indonesia has also been quietly engaging Myanmar‘s military, its shadow government and armed ethnic groups to try to kick-start peace talks.
“ASEAN is doing as much as it can really because when you are there on the ground it’s not that easy,” Philippine foreign minister Enrique Manalo said.
But some have called on ASEAN to take a harder line with Myanmar‘s junta.
“To leave the seat empty at ASEAN summits is actually their comfort zone, they don’t have to be held accountable,” said former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.
“Excluding the junta is only part of a series of steps that should be taken.”
He said the schism over Myanmar presents an “unprecedented challenge” to the bloc’s unity and it was essentially functioning with only nine of its 10 members.
The leaders meeting was also expected to include talks on a code of conduct for the South China Sea and rising tensions over Taiwan, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said late on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if those were discussed. – Reuters