ASEAN leaders call for end of violence in Myanmar

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Mahide Hassan

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Southeast Asian nations are “at a crossroads,” a senior Indonesian minister said on Tuesday, as top envoys of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations convened for the bloc’s biannual summit amid a series of challenges, including increasing deadly violence in Myanmar.

Myanmar has been gripped by escalating violence, which started when the military junta seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021 and unleashed a bloody crackdown on dissent.

The crisis in Myanmar has put ASEAN’s role under the spotlight over the last two years as fallout from the coup worsened, with the bloc’s chair Indonesia and member state Singapore condemning an attack on Sunday on an aid convoy that included their diplomats.

“ASEAN is now at a crossroads. Crisis after crisis is testing our power as a community. If we fail to overcome them it risks endangering our relevance,” Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said during the ASEAN Political Security Community council meeting on Tuesday.

“Externally, we are faced with rivalry between big powers that could potentially divide our group … internally, we face the prolonged crisis in Myanmar and the humanitarian crisis it brings.”

Indonesia is hosting the first of the biannual ASEAN summits in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara, this week. Myanmar’s junta leaders have been barred from attending over their lack of progress in implementing a peace plan endorsed by the regional bloc in 2021.

Mahfud’s remarks come as ASEAN foreign ministers finalize the agenda ahead of a leaders’ meeting on Wednesday.

“The foreign ministers also discussed the Myanmar issue, including the recent attack that occurred when AHA Center and the ASEAN monitoring team was about to deliver humanitarian aid,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a press briefing, without elaborating further.

She said last week that Indonesia has been quietly engaging Myanmar’s junta, shadow government and armed ethnic groups in an effort to start a peace process.

While it remained unclear who was behind Sunday’s attack on the aid convoy that included Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats, Human Rights Watch warned that it “should serve as a wake-up call for ASEAN.”

HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told Arab News that the group’s statements of condemnation only “mask the reality that they still have not figured any way to meaningfully pressure the Myanmar military junta to come to the bargaining table.”

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