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ASEAN Myanmar meeting ends, to announce outcome on Saturday

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By Reuters

By Rozanna Latiff

KUALALUMPUR -Southeast Asian foreign ministers concluded a special meeting on the political crisis in Myanmar on Friday, at which several countries were expected to advocate a tougher response to the ruling military’s failure to follow an agreed peace roadmap.

Brunei, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will issue a statement on Saturday about the more than two-hour-long virtual meeting, a Malaysian foreign ministry spokesperson and a regional diplomat said.

Myanmar’s military seized power in a Feb. 1 coup led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, ending a decade of tentative democracy and triggering a backlash that has plunged the country into chaos.

The junta’s failure to bring an end to the violence, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue with its opponents five months after it agreed to the ASEAN plan has tested the resolve of the bloc – as well as perceptions of its international credibility.

Two sources with knowledge of the meeting contacted by Reuters declined to provide details of what took place.

Myanmar’s lack of progress so far has exasperated several ASEAN members, including the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, which have indicated they could back excluding junta boss Min Aung Hlaing from an ASEAN leaders’ summit later this month.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah earlier on Friday said the meeting would discuss ASEAN special envoy Erywan Yusof’s hopes to visit Myanmar next week, and gauge its willingness to commit to what it agreed to.

“If there is no real progress then Malaysia’s stand would remain that we do not want the general to be attending the summit. No compromise on that,” he said.

Myanmar has been one of ASEAN‘s most divisive issues since it joined the bloc in 1997 as a military dictatorship lambasted by the West for its iron-fisted rule, testing ASEAN‘s unity and denting its international image.

Shutting out Min Aung Hlaing, though not formally recognised as an ASEAN leader, would be a big step for the bloc, which has a policy of non-interference in each other’s affairs and has long favoured engagement over punitive measures.

The junta boss agreed in April to ASEAN‘s five-point plan on a way out of the turmoil since the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi, alleging fraud in an election her party won in a landslide.

But Zaw Min Tun, the Myanmar junta spokesman, this week said ASEAN envoy Erywan would not be allowed to meet Suu Kyi because she is charged with crimes.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry late on Thursday said it remained committed to the ASEAN plan and receiving the envoy, however.

It suggested that Erywan should prioritise ways to “build trust and confidence” on his first trip.