LABUAN BAJO, Indonesia (AP) — Southeast Asian leaders condemned an attack on an aid convoy arranged by the regional group for displaced people in Myanmar and on Wednesday called for an immediate end to the violence and for the military government to comply with a peace plan.
The heads of state and government of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in the picturesque port city of Labuan Bajo in southern Indonesia at the start of a two-day summit. Your host, President Joko Widodo, called for unity amid global economic headwinds and great-power rivalry plaguing the region.
The 10-nation bloc has come under international pressure to deal effectively with the crisis in Myanmar. However, ASEAN members appeared at odds on how to proceed, with some recommending relaxing punitive measures aimed at isolating Myanmar’s generals and reinviting their top diplomats and officials to the high-profile summits. “The period of isolation has served its purpose,” says an internal ASEAN report obtained by The Associated Press.
A convoy carrying aid to displaced villagers and Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats came under fire over the weekend in Myanmar’s eastern Shan State. A security team with the convoy returned fire and one vehicle was damaged, but there were no injuries, state television MRTV reported.
Indonesia, which holds the ASEAN presidency this year, arranged for the shipment of the aid after a long-delayed evaluation.
“We condemned the attack and stressed that the perpetrators must be held accountable,” the ASEAN leaders said in a joint statement.
For the second year, Myanmar’s top general was not invited to the summit. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing led the army when it took power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, plunging the country into civil war and becoming ASEAN’s worst crisis since its inception in 1967.
ASEAN leaders said they were “deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in Myanmar and urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and use of force to create an enabling environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues.”
However, during the foreign ministers’ talks ahead of the summit, some suggested that the group should re-involve Myanmar’s military-led State Administrative Council and “bring Myanmar back to ASEAN foreign ministers’ meetings and summits, noting that the period of isolation was serving its purpose.” has met,” according to the ASEAN report. The countries urging more leniency towards Myanmar despite international outrage over ongoing military attacks in the country have not been identified.
The proposal for ASEAN to bring Myanmar back into its fold was “noted,” the report said, indicating it had not received the full endorsement of all ministers.
The ministers stressed that the crisis in Myanmar should not hamper ASEAN’s progress in building a regional community, the report said, citing an observation that there would be no short-term solution to the crisis in Myanmar.
“There was also an observation that ASEAN may experience ‘Myanmar fatigue,’ which may distract ASEAN from larger ASEAN community-building goals,” the report said. “Patience, flexibility and creativity are therefore required, because there will be no quick solution to the crisis.”
The report cites, without elaborating, concerns about rising cross-border crime, including human trafficking and illicit drug production originating in Myanmar. Even more alarmingly, there has been “a call for all parties to halt the flow of arms and funds into Myanmar, leading to an escalation of the conflict.”
More than 3,450 civilians have been killed by security forces since Myanmar’s military took power and thousands more remain detained, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps records of casualties and arrests related to the military government’s repression.
In April, a military airstrike killed more than 160 people, including many children, attending a ceremony held by opponents of army rule, according to witnesses cited by Human Rights Watch. The group on Tuesday described the attack, in which the military dropped a devastating thermobaric or vacuum bomb, as a “blatant war crime.”
Indonesia has significantly softened its harsh criticism of Myanmar’s military since assuming the rotating role as head of ASEAN. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said her country is taking “a diplomatic approach without the megaphone” to encourage dialogue and end violence, goals of a five-point peace plan that leaders negotiated with Myanmar’s military leaders in 2021.
In a post-summit communiqué to be issued by Widodo on behalf of ASEAN leaders, they plan to renew a call for self-restraint in the disputed South China Sea, echoing language used in previous ASEAN statements.
“Some ASEAN member states have raised concerns about land reclamation, activities and serious incidents in the region, including damage to the marine environment, which could undermine trust and confidence, increase tensions and undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” it says in a draft of the communiqué.
Associated Press journalists Andi Jatmiko and Achmad Ibrahim contributed to this report.
Jim Gomez and Edna Tarigan, The Associated Press