ASEAN Ministers Urge Reduced Violence, Dialogue in Myanmar

AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim
left to right; Malaysian Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir, Philippine’s Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Laotian Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affair Erywan Yusof, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, East Timor’s Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno and ASEAN Secretary General Kao Kim Hourn hold hands as they pose for a group photo during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Coordinating Council Meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Southeast Asian foreign ministers urged Myanmar’s military rulers on Friday to reduce violence and allow unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to pave the way for a national dialogue aimed at ending the country’s worsening crisis.

Meeting in Indonesia’s capital, the ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also granted observer status to East Timor, Asia’s newest nation, ahead of it becoming the regional bloc’s 11th member.

Myanmar is an ASEAN member, but its foreign minister was excluded from Friday’s annual ministers’ retreat because of his country’s failure to implement a five-step consensus on restoring peace forged in 2021 between ASEAN and Myanmar’s military leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who hosted Friday’s meetings, said the ministers agreed that an inclusive national dialogue “is key to finding a peaceful resolution to the situation in Myanmar,” and that reducing violence and providing humanitarian assistance are “paramount for building trust and confidence.”

She said the lack of progress in Myanmar “tests our credibility” as a group, and that ASEAN’s efforts toward peace would be coordinated with those of other countries and the United Nations.

Myanmar’s military leader promised in the five-point agreement to allow a special ASEAN envoy to meet with jailed ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others to foster a dialogue aimed at easing the crisis, set off by the military’s seizure of power two years ago. But Myanmar refused to let an ASEAN envoy meet with Suu Kyi last year, resulting in Min Aung Hlaing’s exclusion from an ASEAN summit last November.

The increasing violence in Myanmar since the military takeover loomed large over the foreign ministers’ meetings, even as Indonesia, this year’s ASEAN chair, sought to dampen concerns that the crisis will overshadow other issues and hold the bloc “hostage.”

In her opening remarks, Marsudi said the ministers were meeting in the midst of immense global challenges in which the Indo-Pacific region is not immune, including geopolitical, food, energy, financial and ecological crises, as well as major power rivalries that could spill over and potentially destabilize the region.

The ministers warmly applauded the East Timor delegation as it participated in an ASEAN ministerial meeting for the first time.

“It is a crucial steppingstone in our long journey to join the big family of the ASEAN community,” East Timor Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno said,

ASEAN agreed in principle to admit East Timor as the group’s 11th member at last November’s ASEAN summit.

East Timor applied for full membership in ASEAN in 2011, but some members feared its poverty would be a burden and slow efforts to achieve an ASEAN Economic Community.

The U.N. estimates that nearly half of East Timor’s population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day, and that 42 of every 1,000 babies die before their fifth birthday because of malnutrition.

The former Portuguese colony was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter-century and gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999. Indonesia’s military responded with scorched-earth attacks that devastated East Timor.