Myanmar attends ASEAN meeting after two-year absence.

Myanmar Sends Representative to ASEAN Meeting for the First Time in Two Years

Myanmar’s junta has sent a senior official to attend a gathering of ASEAN foreign ministers in Laos, marking the country’s first high-level participation in a regional bloc meeting in over two years. The junta-controlled country has been plagued by deadly violence since the military coup in 2021, which ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government and triggered a brutal crackdown on dissent.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), consisting of 10 member states, has been leading diplomatic efforts to alleviate the crisis in Myanmar. However, these efforts have yielded little progress, with over 4,400 fatalities and nearly 20,000 people detained in the military’s crackdown, according to a local monitoring group.

Since October 2021, ASEAN has excluded junta leaders from its summits and ministerial meetings, while the generals have declined invitations to send “non-political” representatives. Nevertheless, on Monday, Marlar Than Htike, a senior foreign ministry bureaucrat, participated in the talks held in the scenic city of Luang Prabang.

Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith welcomed Myanmar’s attendance after a two-year absence and expressed hope for progress. However, he cautioned against expecting an immediate resolution to the crisis, stating that the engagement with Myanmar would provide a better understanding of the situation in the country.

ASEAN’s attempts to address the crisis have faced numerous obstacles, with minimal advancements since 2021 when the bloc established a five-point peace plan that Myanmar agreed to but failed to implement. ASEAN member states have also experienced friction due to differing approaches to the crisis, particularly regarding Thailand’s decision to engage with the junta’s foreign minister.

As the current chair of ASEAN, Laos, a one-party communist state with close ties to China, has called for non-political representation from Myanmar. This follows a meeting between the Laotian special envoy of ASEAN and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing earlier this month in Naypyidaw, where they discussed efforts to ensure peace and stability, according to Myanmar state media.

While some ASEAN members, including Singapore, view the Myanmar representative’s participation as helpful, they remain cautious about the junta’s commitment to implementing the five-point peace deal. The need for humanitarian aid in Myanmar was also emphasized, with Laos acknowledging Thailand’s leadership in providing assistance, given their shared border.

The presence of a Myanmar representative at the ASEAN meeting does not indicate a change in policy, according to a spokesperson from Indonesia, which, along with Singapore and the Philippines, has maintained a firm stance on Myanmar.

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