ASEAN foreign ministers urge more progress in Myanmar crisis

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Southeast Asian foreign ministers acknowledged Thursday that their efforts to bring peace to Myanmar haven’t succeeded and agreed to increase their determination to end violence in the country, where a military takeover last year set off a crisis that threatens to destabilize the region.

Recent events in Myanmar, including a military air strike on Sunday that reportedly killed as many as 80 members of the Kachin ethnic minority and the execution of political prisoners in July, have heightened worries among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

At a special meeting on Myanmar in Jakarta, Indonesia, ASEAN foreign ministers said their efforts haven’t achieved significant progress and called for “concrete, practical and time-bound actions” to strengthen the implementation of a five-point consensus the group reached in April last year on ways to seek peace.

ASEAN, which includes Myanmar, has tried to play a peacemaking role since shortly after the country’s military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The five-point consensus calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among concerned parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties.

Myanmar’s government initially agreed to the consensus but has made little effort to implement it, aside from seeking humanitarian aid and allowing ASEAN’s envoy, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, to visit. But it refused to allow him to meet with Suu Kyi, who was arrested and is being tried on a variety of charges that critics say are contrived to sideline her from politics.

In response, ASEAN has not allowed Myanmar’s leaders to participate in its official meetings, though working-level officials have joined some.

“The meeting agreed that ASEAN should not be discouraged, but even more determined to help Myanmar to bring about a peaceful solution the soonest possible,” Prak Sokhonn, who chaired the meeting, said in a statement.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the ministers expressed their concern and disappointment, and in some cases frustration, with the lack of significant progress in the implementation of the consensus. “Instead of progressing, the situation was even said to be deteriorating and worsening,” she said.

“The acts of violence once again must stop immediately,” Marsudi said. “Without a cessation of violence, there will be no conducive conditions for the resolution of this political crisis.”

A statement issued late Thursday night by Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said it “will not be bound by the outcomes of the meeting” because it was held by the other nine ASEAN countries without Myanmar’s attendance.

It insisted that Myanmar’s military government has been implementing the five-point roadmap by cooperating with ASEAN’s special envoy, holding peace talks with ethnic rebel groups and providing humanitarian assistance.

Thursday’s meeting came ahead of ASEAN’s annual summit on Nov. 11-13, where a top focus of the leaders will be the Myanmar crisis, which has threatened the group’s unity. ASEAN members traditionally avoid criticizing each other, and the violence unleashed by Myanmar’s military is widely seen as exposing the group’s powerlessness in dealing with a geopolitical and humanitarian emergency that could affect all of them.

Growing numbers of refugees are fleeing Myanmar and seeking asylum throughout the region.

The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said an estimated 70,000 have fled to neighboring countries since the military took power and urged Southeast Asian leaders to ensure their governments don’t force people back to Myanmar.

“Rather than protecting asylum seekers from the junta’s violence and persecution, regional actors are forcing Myanmar refugees and other nationals back into harm’s way,” said Shayna Bauchner, a researcher for the group.

Malaysian authorities reportedly have accelerated deportations to Myanmar, returning over 2,000 people since April without allowing the United Nations refugee agency to assess their asylum claims, while Thai authorities have pushed asylum seekers back across the Myanmar border without verifying their protection needs, Human Rights Watch said.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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Peck reported from Bangkok. Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

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