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ASEAN Summit Kicks Off in Indonesia With Focus on Myanmar Crisis

Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (C-R) walks with Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin (C-L) upon his arrival at the Komodo International airport, ahead of the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, 09 May 2023. EFE-EPA/WILLY KURNIAWAN / POOL

The Myanmar crisis, which is witnessing an escalation in violence over two years after the February 2021 military coup, will be in focus during the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia on Tuesday, which is to be followed by the leaders’ summit a day later.

“ASEAN is at a crossroad. Crisis after crisis is testing our strength as a community. And failure to address them would risk jeopardising our relevance,” Indonesia’s coordinating minister for politics, legal and security, Mahfud MD, said at the beginning of the foreign ministers’ meet in Labuan Bajo, on the Flores island.

Tuesday’s meeting is a precursor to the 42nd ASEAN summit on Wednesday, expected to be attended by all the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, except Myanmar – as the junta chief has not been invited – and Thailand, which goes to polls on Sunday.

The bi-annual event of the bloc – consisting of Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Brunei – will be marked by the recent violence in Myanmar.

A convoy carrying humanitarian aid and diplomats – including at least two Singapore nationals – along with ASEAN representatives came under fire on Sunday, although no casualties have been reported so far.

The cavalcade was heading to the city of Hsi Hseng in the western state of Shan to help internally displaced people.

Meanwhile nonprofit Human Rights Watch alleged in a statement on Tuesday that the Myanmar military had committed a possible war crime by using thermobaric munition, which causes indiscriminate and disproportionate civilian casualties, during a raid on Apr. 11 in the northwestern Sagaing province, killing at least 168 people.

This was the deadliest attack during the ongoing civil conflict in the country since the coup.

The Feb. 1 coup by the Myanmar military had ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and aggravated decades-old armed conflicts between state forces and ethnic rebel groups, along with the rise of pro-democracy militias.

According to the United Nations, at least 3,400 people have been killed in violence between the two sides since the coup.

The ASEAN has been criticized for its ineffective mediation attempts in the crisis, focused on a five-point consensus reached with the junta in April 2021, including an end to violence, dialog between all the parties involved and smooth distribution of humanitarian aid.

However, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose country is the current chair of the group, reiterated support for the consensus on Monday ahead of the summit.

Both Widodo and his foreign minister Retno Marsudi have claimed that Jakarta has been carrying out “silent diplomacy” in Myanmar and was in contact with the different parties to the conflict.

On Tuesday, Mahfud MD also urged ASEAN members to not forget the other challenges of the region, such as terrorism, money laundering and human trafficking.

The Myanmar crisis is expected to hinder progress on the group’s negotiations with China over a code of conduct in the South China Sea, where Beijing is involved in several territorial disputes with ASEAN members.

The bloc’s leaders are also set to discuss a roadmap to include Timor Leste as a full member, 20 years after its independence from Indonesian occupation that lasted for a quarter of a century.

Source : La Prensa Latina