Southeast Asian leaders urge end of Myanmar violence, inclusive talks
By Kate Lamb
LABUAN BAJO, Indonesia (Reuters) - Southeast Asian leaders meeting in Indonesia called on Wednesday for an immediate end to violence in military-ruled Myanmar, in an effort to create a window for dialogue and the delivery of humanitarian aid as fighting intensifies.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit was expected to see wrangling over Myanmar's bloody crisis, with patience wearing thin as its junta demonstrates no intent to pursue a peace plan agreed with the regional bloc after it seized power in a 2021 coup.
"We were deeply concerned with ongoing violence in Myanmar and urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force," the leaders said in a joint statement.
Leaders called for "a conducive environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues."
The meeting in the sleepy Indonesian fishing town is being held as Myanmar's military intensifies attacks and air strikes on resistance forces and ethnic minority rebels as it tries to consolidate power ahead of a planned election.
It also comes days after unknown assailants shot at a convoy of regional diplomats in Myanmar that was delivering supplies to some of the more than 1 million people displaced by conflict.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the current ASEAN chair, earlier called for the bloc to speak up as one about the challenges it faces in the region.
"Will ASEAN only be silent or will ASEAN be able to become the driver or peace or growth?", he said.
ASEAN, which has a policy of non-interference in its members affairs, has become increasingly assertive with Myanmar's junta over its failure to implement a five-point peace "consensus" that its top general agreed to with ASEAN a few months after his coup sparked chaos.
"Malaysia is disappointed that there continues to be a lack of meaningful and real progress in the implementation of the 5PC," Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on the sidelines of the summit.
Myanmar's junta leaders are currently barred from attending high-level meetings until they execute the peace plan, which includes ceasing hostilities.
Indonesia has been quietly engaging Myanmar's military, its shadow government and armed ethnic groups to try to kick-start peace talks, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said last week.
"ASEAN is doing as much as it can really because when you are there on the ground it's not that easy," Philippine foreign minister Enrique Manalo said.
But some have called on ASEAN to take a harder line.
"To leave the seat empty at ASEAN summits is actually their comfort zone, they don't have to be held accountable," said former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.
"Excluding the junta is only part of a series of steps that should be taken."
The leaders meeting was also expected to include talks on a code of conduct for the South China Sea and rising tensions over Taiwan, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said late on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if those were discussed.
ASEAN leaders on Wednesday issued a series of joint declarations, including joint commitments to combat human trafficking, protect migrant workers and support the electric vehicle industry across the region.
(Additional reporting by Ananda Teresia in Jakarta; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Angus MacSwan, Martin Petty and Christian Schmollinger)