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ASEAN in talks to bar Myanmar junta chief from summit; US legislators call for sanctions

ASEAN members have voiced disappointment over the Myanmar junta's reluctance to abide by a five-point plan reached by the group in April

Southeast Asian nations are discussing whether to exclude Myanmar’s junta chief from a summit due to slow progress on a plan to address turmoil after a coup in the country earlier this year, a top diplomat said on Wednesday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been under pressure to address unrest in the aftermath of the military power grab in February and a subsequent crackdown on dissent.

But members of the 10-nation bloc have voiced disappointment over the Myanmar junta’s reluctance to abide by a five-point plan reached by the group’s leaders in April to resolve the turmoil.

This includes allowing a visit by a special envoy to the country.

This prompted Malaysia and other countries — during a video call by ASEAN foreign ministers Monday — to raise the possibility of not inviting the junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to a summit this month.

“I can say that we are now deeply in discussion on this matter,” said Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, who was chosen as the special envoy in August after months of negotiations.

“What… is critical is to see progress in the five-point consensus,” he told reporters in Bandar Seri Begawan, capital of Brunei, which holds ASEAN’s rotating chair this year.

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He said Myanmar had agreed to the plan and the junta’s reluctance to adhere to it was “tantamount to basically backtracking.”

Asked if action will be taken at the summit to suspend Myanmar, Erywan said this was not being discussed.

Erywan said he was ready to visit Myanmar and was waiting for a program from the junta that would include his itinerary and the people he would be allowed to meet.

Last Thursday, a junta spokesman said it would be “difficult” for the envoy to hold talks with people on trial.

It was in apparent reference to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was ousted in the coup.

She is currently facing charges including flouting coronavirus restrictions during polls last year that her party won in a landslide, illegally importing walkie-talkies and sedition.

She faces decades in prison if convicted on all charges.

The junta has promised to hold elections and lift a state of emergency by August 2023.

A soldier stands next to a detained man during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay on March 3. (AFP photo)

US legislators call for sanctions

A bipartisan group of US legislators, meanwhile, has filed a bill to sanction Myanmar’s military for violating human rights.

The legislators also proposed to authorize humanitarian funding and to promote democracy in the southeast Asian country.

The legislation authorizes targeted sanctions against those who helped stage the February 1 coup and who, in the months since, have repressed human rights.

Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, has engaged in serious human rights abuses for decades, including against the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, according to rights groups.

In the months since the coup, the Tatmadaw has reportedly killed more than 1,100 civilians and imprisoned over 7,000 more.

The bill in the US Congress also creates a legal framework to support the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, including the authorization to prohibit the import of precious gems and the creation of a new position at the Department of State to coordinate US and international efforts on Myanmar.

On the humanitarian front, the bill authorizes support for civil society and humanitarian efforts in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, “and the surrounding region” where a severe humanitarian crisis is developing as the Tatmadaw displaces hundreds of thousands of Burmese from their homes.

Some analysts pointed out that this language does not specifically include language supporting efforts in Malaysia and India, which are currently housing hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The bill also pressures the Department of State to determine whether the Tatmadaw’s campaign against the Muslim-majority Rohingya population constitutes a genocide, as the UN and many private human rights watchdogs have claimed.

H.R.5497 in the House and S.2937 in the Senate, the bill is known as the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability (BURMA) Act of 2021. Burma is an alternative name for Myanmar. – with reports from AFP and the International Christian Concern

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