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ASEAN to discuss excluding Myanmar junta leader from summit

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By Reuters

By Rozanna Latiff and Tom Allard

-Southeast Asian foreign ministers will discuss excluding Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming summit at a meeting on Friday, sources told Reuters, as pressure builds on the ruling military to comply with an agreed peace roadmap.

The meeting comes as the junta ruled out allowing a regional envoy to meet deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial on multiple charges since her elected government was overthrown in a Feb. 1 coup.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on a five-point consensus with Min Aung Hlaing in April, but several members of the bloc have criticised the junta’s failure to implement the plan, which includes dialogue among all parties, humanitarian access and an end to hostilities.

Friday’s previously unscheduled virtual meeting will be hosted by ASEAN chair Brunei, according to multiple sources based in ASEAN member countries, who include diplomats and government officials.

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia had indicated that they were in favour of excluding Min Aung Hlaing from the Oct. 26-28 virtual summit, but were pushing for a consensus among nine ASEAN states, three of the sources said. Myanmar is the 10th ASEAN member.

A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry confirmed a meeting would be held on Friday.

Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin on Thursday voiced support for excluding Min Aung Hlaing from future summits, adding that ASEAN could no longer afford to take a neutral stance on Myanmar.

“We can continue keeping them (Myanmar) at a distance but… if we relent in any way, our credibility as a real regional organisation disappears,” Locsin said in an interview with Australian think-tank Lowy Institute.

“What’s that? We’re a bunch of guys who always agree with each other on the worthless things, things that don’t count in the world.”

Myanmar junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun did not respond to calls seeking comment on the meeting. Brunei’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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Myanmar, with a long history of military dictatorship and international sanctions over systematic human rights abuses, has been ASEAN‘s trickiest issue since the group was formed in 1967, testing the limits of its unity and its policy of non-interference in each others’ affairs.

More than 1,100 people have been killed since the coup, according to the United Nations, many during a crackdown by security forces on pro-democracy strikes and protests, during which thousands have been arrested.

Erywan Yusof, ASEAN‘s special envoy to Myanmar, last week confirmed some members had been “deep in discussions” about not inviting the military leader. His office declined to comment on Friday’s meeting.

A long-planned visit by the envoy to Myanmar has been delayed in recent weeks. Earlier this week, Erywan said he was in consultations with parties in Myanmar, did not take sides or political positions and looked forward to a visit.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun, in written remarks dated Wednesday, said the military will not block Erywan from visiting but will not allow him to meet Suu Kyi, because she is charged with crimes.

He said some ASEAN countries and others were pressuring Myanmar with “apparent restrictive actions” and took a swipe at the United Nations for stalling approval of the military government’s choice of U.N. ambassador

Those entities, he said, “should avoid double standards when they are engaging in international affairs”.