ASEAN summit kicks off without Myanmar representative

Bangkok, Oct 26 (EFE).- The leaders of the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday began their annual meeting without a Myanmar representative and following the exclusion of the leader of the military junta that took control by force in February.

During the opening of the summit, which was held via videoconference due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the space reserved for a non-political Myanmar representative remained empty.

Neither the ASEAN secretary general nor Brunei, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the bloc this year, have indicated why Myanmar has started the summit without representation, and it is unknown if this will continue.

On Oct. 15, ASEAN foreign ministers decided to exclude the military junta from the event and invite a non-political representative from Myanmar instead after failing to reach a consensus on a political representative from the country.

Both the junta, which ended a decade of incipient democracy in Myanmar with a coup on Feb. 1, and the self-proclaimed National Unity Government, formed in April by pro-democracy politicians and activists, had requested to attend the annual summit.

The decision showed the internal divisions among the ASEAN states, which includes Myanmar, and led to a reaction from the junta, who said it was “extremely disappointed” by the exclusion and attributed it to foreign interference.

The Southeast Asian bloc based its decision on the “insufficient” progress made by the junta in implementing the agreement reached between ASEAN and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in April to resolve the conflict and violence triggered by the coup.

The five points of the pact include an end to violence against civilians, dialog between all parties to reach a peaceful solution, and the appointment of an ASEAN mediator to visit Myanmar.

On Tuesday, in addition to the ASEAN leaders’ meeting, the attendees will also hold meetings with the presidents of the United States, China and South Korea, Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in respectively.

Two days after ASEAN’s decision to exclude Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s junta announced the release of 5,635 inmates arrested for taking part in protests against the coup, although human rights groups say that there is no list of those released, and there have been reports of many being immediately rearrested.

Neither ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is facing several legal proceedings initiated after the military coup, nor the former president, Win Myint, or others linked to Suu Kyi, are among those released.

In the almost nine months since the coup, the junta has arrested more than 9,000 people, of which more than 7,000 are still in detention, while 1,199 people have died due to repression by security forces, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The Myanmar junta justifies the coup by alleging electoral fraud in the now annulled results of the general election in November last year in which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide victory.

ASEAN is made up of Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. EFE


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