Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed Thursday to seek a consensus in making any decision to address violence in Myanmar, which has been under military rule since a February 2021 coup.
“The meeting unanimously agreed that decision-making in ASEAN shall be based on consultation and consensus…to address the situation in Myanmar,” a chair’s statement released after their half-day special meeting in Jakarta said.
They underscored, however, the need to further strengthen the implementation of the so-called five-point consensus, which refers primarily to ending violence against the junta’s political opponents and civilian protesters, “through concrete, practical and time-bound actions.”
ASEAN has long imposed a noninterference policy in its members’ domestic affairs. But human rights organizations and other countries have called on the group to rethink the policy and take stronger actions against Myanmar.
Indonesia and Singapore have pushed hard to convince other member states to block Myanmar in all sectors, not only in politics, according to ASEAN sources while others have argued that such an action will harm the 55-year-old ASEAN consensus and noninterference policy.
The meeting, proposed by Indonesia and chaired by Cambodia, also deliberated “key recommendations” to be submitted to their leaders at an annual ASEAN summit next month in Phnom Penh, according to the statement.
The Thursday meeting was held to discuss how the 10-nation bloc should respond to the junta’s noncompliance with the five-point consensus, which was reached by the leaders of ASEAN, including Myanmar junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, at a special summit in April last year.
Although Min Aung Hlaing has said some of the points will be implemented this year, it remains uncertain whether the junta will take any action to comply with the agreement.
The meeting took place without the presence of any officials from Myanmar’s junta, although a seat was prepared for a nonpolitical representative from the military-ruled country if it opted to send one.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who is also ASEAN’s envoy for Myanmar, told eight other foreign ministers from the association that “the situation in Myanmar remains very critical, fragile and unpredictable.”
The crisis in Myanmar, according to Prak Sokhonn, “requires a huge dose of practicality and patience in order to bring about a peaceful solution.”
During a press conference after the meeting, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that during the meeting, some ASEAN member countries expressed their concerns, disappointment and frustration over the lack of progress on the five-point consensus.
Retno stressed the importance of an immediate engagement with all stakeholders as mandated by the consensus, stressing the engagement with the military junta “is conducted only as a part of engagement with all stakeholders.”
“Approaches to keep problems under the carpet shall not be an option any longer in the working mechanisms of ASEAN,” she said.
Myanmar’s military toppled the democratically elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021 and has since violently suppressed pro-democracy protesters.
In the latest incident to spark tensions, the junta launched on Sunday an airstrike on a concert held to celebrate the establishment of the political arm of the Kachin Independence Army, a local ethnic rebel group.
The attack, which was swiftly condemned by the United Nations, killed at least 50 people, including concert performers and civilians, according to local media.
The junta confirmed the airstrike did take place and said a rebel commander and his deputy were among those killed.