Southeast Asian nations renew alarm over Myanmar violence. But diplomats can't settle on a solution

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Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, center, speaks to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, unseen, during Indonesia-U.S. Ministerial Strategic Dialogue on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, July 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, Pool)

JAKARTA – Southeast Asian foreign ministers renewed their alarm over — and condemnation of — air strikes, artillery shelling, and other acts of deadly violence in Myanmar, but struggled Friday to overcome differences on how to address the prolonged civil strife.

The Myanmar crisis was high on the agenda when top diplomats of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met Tuesday and Wednesday in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The 10-nation bloc includes Myanmar, but its foreign minister was again barred from attending this week’s meetings due to the military government’s failure to comply with a five-point emergency plan drafted to ease the violence.

ASEAN has been trying to enforce the plan it forged with Myanmar’s top general in 2021, which calls for an immediate end to the violence, the start of talks brokered by a special envoy among contending parties, and the delivery of aid to displaced villagers.

But Myanmar’s military government has done little to enforce the plan, prompting ASEAN to ban its representatives from top-level meetings.

Nearly 3,000 people have been killed by the military government since it took power and more than 23,700 have been arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-governmental organization that tracks killings and arrests.

On Wednesday, Thailand’s foreign minister Don Pramudwinai told ASEAN counterparts that he met with ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in detention over the weekend and that she encouraged dialogue to resolve the crisis gripping her nation.

Don is the only government official outside of Myanmar known to have met with Suu Kyi since she was detained along with other officials when the army seized power from her elected government on Feb. 1, 2021. He said Myanmar’s military government authorized his rare meeting with the democracy icon.

ASEAN, however, did not authorize it. The regional bloc has been careful in taking steps that could be perceived as a recognition of the military government, which has been sanctioned by Western and European governments.

Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are known to have taken a strong stand against any engagement that could be perceived as recognizing Myanmar’s top generals as legitimate leaders. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, host of this week’s summit, has refused to comment on Don’s meeting with Suu Kyi. Instead, she underscored that the regional group was still pursuing ASEAN’s emergency plan focused on encouraging peace dialogues to try to resolve the Myanmar crisis.

However, a joint communique issued by the ministers Friday said that “a number of ASEAN member states viewed as a positive development” the initiative by Thailand, without elaborating or specifying which states were in support.

An escalation of the crisis could drive large numbers of refugees from Myanmar to neighboring Thailand. In a news briefing Thursday, Don said his country has to take urgent steps to help resolve the crisis.

“This is our own initiative. Why? Because we have a long border with Myanmar, 2,400 (kilometers, or 1,500 miles) and things happen everyday,” Don said. “Like Indonesia, you are far away from Myanmar. You don’t know what is happening.”

"We are affected, India is affected, countries bordering Myanmar are all affected,” he said.

Marsudi underscored the more than 110 engagements Indonesia, as ASEAN’s leader this year, has initiated with rival groups in Myanmar to build trust and confidence that she said could lead to easing tensions and violent confrontations.

"We strongly condemned the continued acts of violence, including air strikes, artillery shelling, and destruction of public facilities,” the ASEAN foreign ministers said in their communique.

They called on allied nations and groups, including the United Nations and countries neighboring Myanmar, to work with ASEAN to enforce the emergency peace plan — and for additional support from the international community for humanitarian assistance.

The communique commended ASEAN's humanitarian assistance center for delivering aid this month to 400 households of displaced people in Hsihseng Township, located in south Shan state. It also called on Myanmar to ensure the assistance can safely reach the estimated 1.1 million people who are displaced within the country.

In May, a convoy delivering aid to displaced villagers and carrying Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats came under fire in east Shan state. A security team with the convoy returned fire and a vehicle was damaged, but there were no injuries, state-run television MRTV reported.

In a meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Washington provided over $74 million in additional humanitarian relief to the region Thursday, including nearly $61 million to support ethnic Rohingya displaced by the ongoing violence in Myanmar.

“We must press the military regime to stop the violence, to implement ASEAN's five-point consensus, to support a return to democratic governance,” Blinken said in his opening remarks.

Indonesia bilaterally delivered assistance totaling 45 tons in June, with a value of more than half a million dollars, in the form of ready-to-eat food and relief supplies for those hit by Cyclone Mocha in May — especially in Rakhine State where there is also a need for vaccines, particularly for children, Marsudi said in a news conference last week.

“All parties must be committed to helping distribute humanitarian aid with the principle of no one left behind and not politicizing humanitarian assistance,” Marsudi said.


Associated Press journalists Edna Tarigan, Andi Jatmiko and Dita Alangkara contributed to this report.


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