ASEAN ministers mull censuring Myanmar for hindering envoy

Southeast Asia’s top diplomats will discuss in an emergency meeting Friday whether to allow Myanmar’s military leader to attend an annual summit after a crisis envoy was barred from meeting ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations had appointed Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof in August as its special envoy to mediate an end to the Myanmar crisis. However, he abruptly canceled his trip to the violence-wracked nation this week after being informed by his hosts that he would not be able to meet Suu Kyi and others as he wanted.

Myanmar officials have said Erywan couldn’t meet with Suu Kyi because of criminal charges against her. The foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday it hoped Erywan would will seek to build trust instead of putting politically motivated pressure on Myanmar.

The 10-nation ASEAN bloc, which includes Myanmar, has been under intense international pressure to take swift decisive action to halt the violence that has reportedly left more than 1,100 civilians dead, to force its generals to free scores of political leaders led by Suu Kyi who were toppled in a Feb. 1 military takeover and to put the nation back on the road to democracy.

Some ASEAN members have called for Myanmar to be censured for refusing to cooperate.

Allowing Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to attend the ASEAN summit, which will take place by video Oct. 26-28, could be perceived as recognition of the military takeover that abruptly halted one of Asia’s most phenomenal democratic transitions in recent history after decades of military rule. Among world leaders due to attend the summit is President Joe Biden, who has condemned the democratic setback and authorized sanctions against Myanmar’s generals, their family members and associates.

ASEAN foreign ministers on Friday will consider a number of proposals, including allowing Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to attend the meetings without letting him speak or prohibiting him from attending but permitting a lower-level civilian representative to attend in his place, a Southeast Asian diplomat told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly.

A Myanmar delegation attended last month’s U.N. General Assembly in New York but did not address the body, an arrangement that ASEAN can possibly adopt, the diplomat said.

Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister was invited to attend the two-hour ministerial meeting Friday night, the diplomat said, adding “we don’t know how Myanmar will react if presented officially with these options.”

Myanmar is widely seen as doing very little to honor its commitments, though it claims to have helped facilitate humanitarian assistance. Suu Kyi has been in detention since the army takeover, and is currently being tried on several charges that her supporters and independent analysts say are contrived and an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power.

ASEAN is hamstrung by its bedrock policy of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member nations and by its consensus decision-making, meaning just one member state can reject any proposal. But some members feel action is justified because major unrest in Myanmar could trigger regional instability.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah earlier this month warned that “unless there is progress, it would be difficult to have” Min Aung Hlaing at the ASEAN summit meetings.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. backed the position of his Malaysian counterpart, warning “if we relent in any way, our credibility as a real regional organization disappears.”

Locsin has demanded Myanmar’s return to political and other conditions before the Feb. 1 military takeover but stressed during an online forum Thursday with Australia’s Lowy Institute that Myanmar’s army is essential to its stability.

“We can’t move forward, unless you go back to the way it was,” Locsin said but added “without the army … Myanmar will become what they may give you: a hellhole of anarchy.”

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Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this story.

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