BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military-installed government on Friday sharply challenged a pronouncement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations barring its leader from from attending the regional bloc’s summit next week.
Myanmar said the declaration, issued by ASEAN’s current chair, Brunei, violated the charter of the group, to which it belongs. A statement issued Friday night by Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry detailed why it believed ASEAN had violated its own rules by taking such action.
The 10-member bloc acted after Myanmar refused to allow its special envoy to meet with ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been detained since Myanmar’s military seized power from her elected government in February.
ASEAN since April has sought to play a mediating role in Myanmar’s crisis, as the ruling military’s efforts to quash opposition have only triggered increasingly violent and destabilizing resistance.
The row comes ahead of the Oct. 26 start to ASEAN’s annual summit, which includes high-profile talks with world leaders such as U.S. President Joe Biden, as well as the leaders of China and Russia.
The monthslong crisis in Myanmar, the still-raging coronavirus pandemic and security and economic issues are high on the agenda of the meeting, which will be carried out by video.
Western nations such as the United States have sharply criticized military rule in Myanmar since the takeover and the deadly crackdown on military opponents, which is estimated to have killed about 1,100 civilians.
Some U.N. experts suggest Myanmar is on the verge of civil war, which could destabilize the region.
ASEAN itself, whose members usually refrain from criticizing each other, is also roiled by the crisis in Myanmar.
Such a dispute within ASEAN is virtually unprecedented. Among the bedrock principles breached by the exclusion of Myanmar’s leader is an edict prohibiting ASEAN member states from interfering in each other’s domestic affairs. The regional bloc also decides by consensus, meaning just one member state can shoot down any proposal. In dealing with Myanmar this year, the group’s chair has used its privilege to act without a formal consensus.
Friday’s statement from Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said only a summit of the group could consider whether to bar the attendance of a member nation’s leader.
It declared that “Myanmar will endeavor to find a peaceful solution based on ASEAN Spirit and ASEAN Way through consultation and negotiation.” But it did not say if another representative from Myanmar would be attending in place of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who heads the government and ruling military council.
Brunei in its capacity as ASEAN chair said the bloc has decided to invite a non-political representative, instead of Myanmar’s military leader.
ASEAN leaders at a special meeting in April issued a statement expressing a “five-point consensus” on Myanmar’s crisis. It called for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels, and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties.
Myanmar is widely seen as having done very little to abide by the consensus, though it claims to have helped facilitate humanitarian assistance.
Along with Myanmar, the other ASEAN nations are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.
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