Myanmar casts shadow over Asean foreign ministers' talks

Military regime's representative barred from meeting of 10-member bloc

Asean foreign ministers at their meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. AP
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South-East Asian nations held talks in Cambodia on Thursday, with the Myanmar junta's representative barred from attending.

There are divisions among Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries over how to restore stability inMyanmar after a military coup on February 1 last year.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had sought to re-engage the junta, but amid friction over the approach, Asean excluded Myanmar's military-appointed foreign minister from this week's meeting, which was postponed from January.

“No doubt we might have different views occasionally on some issues but what family doesn’t have them?” Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn said in Phnom Penh.

Several Asean ministers were due to attend online after a surge in coronavirus cases in the region.

Mr Sokhonn expressed regret that not all the ministers had been able to attend.

Vietnam's Foreign Minister, Bui Thanh Son, tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Phnom Penh and would join the meeting online, Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said.

Cambodia currently chairs the 10-member association, which last year unexpectedly blocked Myanmar's military government from joining key meetings over a failure to honour its peace plan.

Cambodia's prime minister on Wednesday defended his decision to visit Myanmar for talks last month and said that, without a breakthrough, peace in the conflict-hit nation may not be achieved in the next five or 10 years.

Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia have urged Cambodia not to invite Myanmar's generals until they deliver on a commitment made last year to end hostilities and allow Asean to manage a peace process.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the lack of progress in implementing the peace plan was “disappointing".

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military overthrew an elected government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi last year.

More than 1,500 civilians have been killed in the junta's repression of its opponents, according to a Thai activist group. The regime blames the violence on “terrorists".

Asean has not formally recognised the military government, which has had sanctions imposed on it by the US, UK and EU, among others.

Myanmar's leaders said they regretted the decision to exclude its representative, which it said contradicted the bloc's principle of equal representation.

Updated: February 17, 2022, 8:22 AM