Southeast Asian leaders condemned an armed attack on an aid convoy that the regional group had arranged for displaced people in Myanmar, calling Wednesday for an immediate stop to violence and for the military government to comply with a peace plan.
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convened in the picturesque harbor town of Labuan Bajo in southern Indonesia at the start of a two-day summit. Their host, President Joko Widodo, called for unity amid global economic headwinds and major-power rivalry that’s lashing the region.
The 10-nation bloc is also being pressed to address the crisis underway in member state Myanmar.
Over the weekend, a convoy delivering aid to displaced villagers and carrying Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats came under fire by unidentified men armed with pistols in Myanmar’s eastern Shan State. A security team with the convoy returned fire and a vehicle was damaged, but no one in the convoy was injured, state-run television MRTV reported.
Indonesia, which serves as ASEAN’s chair this year, had arranged for the delivery of the aid after a long-delayed assessment.
“We condemned the attack and underlined that the perpetrators must be held accountable,” the ASEAN leaders said in a joint statement Wednesday.
For the second year, the top general of member state Myanmar was not invited to the summit. He and his army forcibly took power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 in a power grab that degenerated into a civil strife in what has become ASEAN’s gravest crisis since its 1967 founding.
ASEAN leaders said they were “deeply concerned with ongoing violence in Myanmar and urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force to create a conducive environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues.”
In an additional concern involving Myanmar, Indonesian officials said Sunday that 20 of their nationals, who were trafficked into Myanmar and forced to perform cyber scams, had been freed from Myanmar’s Myawaddy township and brought to the Thai border over the weekend. During the summit, ASEAN leaders planned to express their concern over such human trafficking schemes in a joint statement, a draft copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
More than 3,450 civilians have been killed by security forces since Myanmar’s military forcibly took power, and thousands more remain imprisoned, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps tallies of casualties and arrests linked to repression by the military government.
In April, military airstrikes killed as many as 100 people, including many children, who were attending a ceremony by opponents of army rule, according to witnesses. The research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday described the strike as an “apparent war crime.”
Indonesia has considerably eased its fierce criticism of Myanmar’s military since assuming the rotating role as ASEAN’s leader. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said her country is taking “a non-megaphone diplomacy approach” to encourage dialogue and end violence, which are goals of a five-point peace plan Southeast Asian leaders negotiated with Myanmar’s top general in 2021.
Under international pressure to do more to address the violence, ASEAN leaders stopped inviting Myanmar’s top general to their summits after the military seized power, allowing only non-political representatives. Myanmar’s military rulers have protested the move as a violation of the bloc’s non-interference policy.
In a post-summit communique to be issued by Widodo on behalf of the ASEAN leaders, they plan to renew a call for self-restraint in the disputed South China Sea, repeating language used in previous ASEAN statements.
“Concerns were expressed by some ASEAN member states on the land reclamations, activities, and serious incidents in the area, including damage to the marine environment, which has eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region,” said a draft of the communique, which was obtained by the AP.
The leaders will also raise alarm over the trafficking of Southeast Asian workers forced to commit online cryptocurrency frauds.