Top ASEAN officials meet Myanmar junta chief for ‘cooperation’ talks

The regional grouping has so far failed to get the regime to abide by a consensus aimed at ending the violence unleashed by its 2021 coup

Myanmar’s military chief has held talks with top officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the junta’s participation in the regional bloc, from which it has been isolated since staging its 2021 coup, state media reported Thursday.

The 10-member grouping has led so far fruitless diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict unleashed by the military’s putsch, which has displaced 2.7 million people, according to the United Nations.

Myanmar is still a member of ASEAN, but the generals have been excluded from top-level bloc meetings over their refusal to engage in a peace plan and with their opponents.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing met ASEAN special envoy Alounkeo Kittikhoun and secretary-general Kao Kim Hourn on Wednesday in the capital Naypyitaw, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar.

They “exchanged views on the issues of Myanmar’s cooperation in ASEAN,” the state-owned newspaper reported.

They also “discussed the best cooperation of Myanmar in ASEAN, the conditions of Myanmar’s participation in ASEAN meetings” and the junta’s plan to hold fresh elections, the newspaper said.

The Myanmar crisis has divided ASEAN—long derided by critics as a toothless talking shop.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have all called for tougher action against the junta, while Thailand has held its own bilateral talks with the generals as well as detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Last year, officials from Indonesia held talks with representatives of the publicly mandated National Unity Government, which is dominated by lawmakers ousted in the coup and designated by the junta as a “terrorist” organisation.

In January, the junta sent a senior bureaucrat to an ASEAN foreign ministers meet in Laos—the first time the country attended a high-level meeting of the bloc in more than two years.

More than 5,000 people have been killed and more than 26,000 arrested in the military’s crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.

The coup ended a short-lived experiment with democracy and plunged the Southeast Asian nation into turmoil.

Across swathes of the country, the junta is battling established ethnic minority armed groups as well as pro-democracy People’s Defence Forces.

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