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SE Asian nations criticize Myanmar, but weaker than expected

By AP | Aug 5, 2022

From left to right; Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, Philippines Foreign Affairs acting Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Vietnam Foreign Minister But Thanh Son, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia's Foreign Minister Peak Sokhonn, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Brunei Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Yusof, Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, and Secretary-General of ASEAN Lim Jock Hoi poses for a group photograph during the opening for the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (55th AMM) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Southeast Asian foreign ministers are gathering in the Cambodian capital for meetings addressing persisting violence in Myanmar and other issues, joined by top diplomats from the United States, China, Russia and other world powers amid tensions over the invasion of Ukraine and concerns over Beijing's growing ambitions in the region. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers issued their final communique Friday after a series of meetings in the Cambodian capital, criticizing fellow member Myanmar for its lack of progress in ending the violence there, but with weaker language than several countries had hoped for.

Myanmar’s military-led government that seized power from elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 has been accused of thousands of extrajudicial killings, and last week carried out its first official executions in decades — raising an outcry from several ASEAN members and countries around the world.

ASEAN has been trying to implement a five-point consensus it reached on Myanmar last year, calling for dialogue among all concerned parties, provision of humanitarian assistance and an immediate cessation of violence, among other things.

Following news of the late-July executions, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah accused Myanmar of “making a mockery of the five-point process.”

Still, in the final communique, the foreign ministers only “expressed our concerns over the prolonged political crisis in the country, including the execution of four opposition activists,” while adding they were “deeply disappointed by the limited progress” in the implementation of the five-point consensus.

Cambodia currently holds the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN, which also includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei in addition to Myanmar.

With the ongoing violence in Myanmar, the country was asked not to send any political representative to the ASEAN meetings. In protest, Myanmar’s military government said it would send no delegate at all, so was unrepresented in the talks.

But in preliminary discussions leading up to the main meetings, a lower-level representative from Myanmar expressed objections to the proposed wording of the communique, which led to stronger criticism being proposed by Malaysia, Singapore and others to be excluded, according to a diplomat who was involved in the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings.

Although ASEAN has tried to project itself as a showcase of regional unity with its leaders and top diplomats locking their hands in an unusual group handshake photo-op in their annual summits, the diverse bloc has been perennially buffeted by conflicting agendas within.

Following their daylong meeting on Wednesday, they delayed issuing the joint communique due to differences over the section on Myanmar, the diplomat said.

Cambodia forged a compromise Thursday night which paved the way for the belated release of the weaker communique on Friday, the diplomat said.

There were concerns that if a compromise was not reached, the contrasting viewpoints on Myanmar could have blocked the issuance of the communique like in a similar embarrassing incident about a decade ago when Cambodia also hosted the ministerial gathering, the diplomat said.

In the 2012 meeting, the unresolved impasse centered on whether China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea should be included in the communique. Cambodia then was accused by the Philippines and Vietnam of blocking mention of the increasingly tense territorial conflicts. It was the first time that the bloc, founded in 1967, has failed to issue a post-conference communique in its history.

The military’s overthrow of Suu Kyi’s government triggered widespread peaceful protests that were violently suppressed. They have evolved into an armed resistance and the country has slipped into what some U.N. experts characterize as a civil war.

More than 2,100 people have been killed by the military government since it took power and nearly 15,000 have been arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-governmental organization that tracks killings and arrests.