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Asean 'even more determined' to solve Myanmar crisis

Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn prepares for a meeting with Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday. - Reuters
Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn prepares for a meeting with Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday. - Reuters

JAKARTA: Southeast Asian foreign ministers said they were "even more determined" to solve the political crisis in Myanmar during talks in Indonesia on Thursday ahead of the Asean leaders' summit in November.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military coup in February last year, but despite its expressions of concern, efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have yet to bear any fruit.

But "Asean should not be discouraged, but even more determined to help Myanmar to bring about a peaceful solution", said Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn after the emergency meeting at the bloc's secretariat in Jakarta. Myanmar's junta had declined to send a non-political figure to the meeting.

More than 2,300 people have been killed in the Myanmar military's brutal crackdown on dissent after the coup, according to a local monitor. The United States had urged strong action at Thursday's meeting.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia, said at an event in Washington that the junta was leading "the complete destruction of all the progress made over the last decade" as Myanmar transitioned to democracy.

"We are not going to sit idly by while this violence continues; we're not going to sit idly by while the junta prepares for what will be completely fake and sham elections that they talk about holding next year."

Kritenbrink said Washington had "great respect" for Asean, but US officials have expressed frustration in the past at the lack of progress on the bloc's own plan for the crisis, which called for an end to the violence, increased aid and dialogue.

"I think all the Asean countries need to hold the regime accountable," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July. "To date, we have not seen positive movement in that direction."

Asean ministers reaffirmed on Thursday their commitment to that five-point plan, first proposed in April 2022.

"The situation on the ground remains critical and fragile, and this is not due to the lack of commitments and efforts on the part of Asean... but because of the complexity and difficulty of Myanmar's decades-long protracted conflicts," Sokhonn said. "The time to act is now."

Host Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the top diplomats of all Asean members had expressed concern about the failure to move ahead.

"The approach to sweep problems under the rug should not be an option in the Asean working mechanism," she told a press briefing.

Singapore's Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan expressed the city-state's "deep disappointment at the lack of progress" by the junta on implementing the agreed plan, his ministry said in a statement.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has not been invited to the Asean leaders' summit in Cambodia next month -- for the second year in a row -- and Myanmar's top diplomat Wunna Maung Lwin was excluded from ministerial talks in February and August. But rights groups condemned the bloc's failure to act, calling it business as usual.

"Instead of the kind of wishy-washy language contained in the Chairperson's statement, Asean needs to get tough by establishing clear, time-bound human rights benchmarks on Myanmar," said Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

He said that should include releasing political prisoners, ceasing attacks on civilians, and steps towards dissolving the junta to allow for civilian democratic rule.

"Those benchmarks should be accompanied by clear penalties should Myanmar fail to meet them," he said, criticising Asean for not taking "even small actions to show displeasure" with the junta. - AFP

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