BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Southeast Asian countries are in talks to bar the head of Myanmar’s junta from the ASEAN summit later this month, due to a lack of progress on an agreed roadmap to restore peace in the strife-torn country.

The junta’s inaction on a five-point plan reached with ASEAN last April was “tantamount to backtracking”, YB Dato Erywan Yusof, the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar, told a news conference Wednesday.

“Up until today there has been no progress on the implementation of the five-point consensus, and this has raised a concern,” he said.

Dato Erywan, who is also the foreign minister of ASEAN chair Brunei, said the bloc was in “deep discussions” about not inviting military chief Min Aung Hlaing to participate in a virtual summit taking place from October 26-28.

He said during the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, there was not yet a consensus among all member countries to exclude Myanmar from the upcoming summit, and that the impact of such a move would have to be thought of carefully.

ASEAN has been under pressure to address the violent unrest that has unfolded in the aftermath of a military coup last February, and a subsequent crackdown on dissent that has seen more than 1,100 people killed.

The bloc’s effort to engage with Myanmar’s military has been criticised by supporters of democracy, with a committee of ousted Myanmar lawmakers saying ASEAN’s engagement would give the junta legitimacy.

Still, excluding a leader from the summit would be a big step for ASEAN, which operates through consensus decision-making and prefers engagement, rather than confrontation, with member countries.

“As an ASEAN family that wants to help Myanmar, we all respect the principle of not interference in the affairs of another state,” Dato Erywan said.

But at the same time, he added, the junta has not responded to his call for a ceasefire, or requests to meet with detained leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

FILE PHOTO: Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, delivers a speech at the IX Moscow conference in Russia on June 23, 2021. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via Reuters

The envoy said he was ready to visit Myanmar and had proposed an itinerary to the military-appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin last week, but the junta has yet to respond.

Dato Erywan said while the Tatmadaw is open to the visit, he would not go unless they agree to give full access to “all concerned parties”, including leaders of the ousted National League for Democracy.

“As special envoy, I would say that I am on standby to go there any time. But they have to give me a programme that is going to show that there is progress. Otherwise, I don’t see a necessity to go there and come back empty-handed.”

Despite ASEAN’s overtures in past months, the military remains intractable.

Last Thursday, the junta said it would be “difficult” for the envoy to hold talks with people on trial, in apparent reference to Aung San Suu Kyi, and also denied accepting a ceasefire proposal from the special envoy.

Following the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Monday, several diplomats voiced their deep disappointment over the junta’s failure to live up to its promises.

When asked if action will be taken at the October summit to suspend Myanmar from ASEAN, Dato Erywan said this had not been discussed.

– Additional reporting from Reuters