Labuan Bajo, Indonesia – Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations denounced a weekend attack in Myanmar in a statement, with the country’s prolonged political crisis among the issues confronting ASEAN at the group’s summit that began Wednesday in Indonesia.
The statement was issued as diplomatic sources revealed a secret meeting between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister Than Swe on the resort island of Bali last month.
There was no detail about the secret meeting, but Marsudi briefed other ASEAN foreign ministers on Monday that the “gap among all parties concerned in Myanmar is very wide” and that a peaceful solution to the Myanmar crisis may not be seen in the near future.
In the stand-alone statement on Myanmar, ASEAN leaders said they were deeply concerned with the ongoing violence in the country, urging the immediate cessation of the use of force following the attack on a convoy of diplomats from Indonesia and Singapore on an aid mission in eastern Myanmar.
“We condemned the attack and underlined that the perpetrators must be held accountable,” the statement by the leaders of the 10-member group who are meeting in the fishing town of Labuan Bajo read.
Myanmar, an ASEAN member state in which the military seized power in a February 2021 coup, is absent from the two-day summit as host Indonesia has stood by the ASEAN position that the junta should only send a nonpolitical representative, if any.
The convoy carrying humanitarian aid for displaced people in Myanmar’s Shan State was attacked by unknown gunmen, but nobody was injured.
The ASEAN leaders called for an environment that enables the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues.
They also expressed their support for Indonesia, this year’s chair, to continue its engagement with all stakeholders in Myanmar in order to encourage progress in the implementation of the so-called five-point consensus agreed upon at a special ASEAN summit in April 2021 attended by Myanmar junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
Steps laid out in the consensus include ending the junta’s violence against political opponents and civilian protesters “through concrete, practical and time-bound actions.”
Progress on the implementation of the consensus will be discussed on the second day of the summit, during which some decisions may be made, including on an implementation plan, according to diplomatic sources.
A draft chairman’s statement, seen by Kyodo News, said the leaders are expected to commend “the successful partial delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar on 7 May 2023, despite the challenging security situation,” referring to the attacks on the convoy.
Other topics discussed by the leaders of ASEAN on Wednesday included efforts to maintain a central role in the region amid increasing rivalry between the United States and China, according to the draft.
Regarding a proposed “code of conduct” agreement in the South China Sea, currently being drawn up by ASEAN and China to help avert confrontation in the region, the leaders are set to welcome “the initiative to expedite the COC negotiation,” according to the draft.
The agreement will include “the proposal to develop guidelines for accelerating the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC,” it said.
On Wednesday, the leaders adopted a road map for East Timor’s full membership. The tiny country, which achieved formal independence in 2002, currently has ASEAN observer status.
In the road map, it was stipulated that East Timor must “prepare a financial scheme to meet all financial obligations of ASEAN membership” and must have adequate “physical infrastructure and logistics to host meetings and accommodate” ASEAN delegates.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Source: Kyodo News