BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – ASEAN has issued a rare rebuke to Myanmar’s military leader, saying he will be persona non grata at the upcoming leaders’ summit hosted by Brunei from October 26-28.

The decision taken by foreign ministers at an emergency meeting on Friday night marks an unprecedented step for the consensus-driven bloc, which has traditionally favoured a policy of engagement and non-interference.

ASEAN’s current chair Brunei released a statement on Saturday saying a non-political figure from Myanmar will be invited instead, after no consensus was reached for a political representative to attend.

It did not mention Senior General Min Aung Hlaing by name, or who would be invited in his stead.

Brunei cited the lack of progress on a roadmap to restore peace, which was agreed between ASEAN and Myanmar in April after the army led a coup against an elected civilian government.

“As there had been insufficient progress… as well as concerns over Myanmar’s commitment, in particular on establishing constructive dialogue among all concerned parties, some ASEAN Member States recommended that ASEAN give space to Myanmar to restore its internal affairs and return to normalcy,” the chair said in a statement.

Myanmar’s military responded on Saturday evening, saying there was no provision in the ASEAN Charter to exclude Myanmar from the summit and that the legitimacy of its government “should not be questioned”.

“Myanmar is extremely disappointed and strongly objected the outcomes of the Emergency Foreign Ministers’ Meeting as the discussions and decision on Myanmar’s representation issue was done without consensus.”

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun blamed “foreign intervention” for the decision to exclude them from the summit.

ASEAN under pressure

ASEAN has faced increasing international pressure to take a tougher stand against Myanmar, having been criticised in the past for its ineffectiveness.

More than 1,100 civilians have been killed by Myanmar security forces since the February 1 coup, according to the United Nations, amid an increasingly violent crackdown on strikes and protests. Over three million people also require humanitarian assistance.

For the first time, the bloc on Saturday acknowledged that Myanmar’s deepening crisis — and ASEAN’s unsuccessful efforts to pressure the junta into a ceasefire — has been damaging to its credibility.

The group appointed Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs, YB Dato Erywan Yusof, as the special envoy to Myanmar in August. But since taking up the post he has accused the military government of backtracking on commitments made in the five-point consensus.

The envoy had to delay a long-planned visit to the country after the junta refused to grant him access to opposition parties, including deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was detained in the coup.

They objected to the envoy’s request to meet the Nobel Prize laureate, as well as representatives from the National Unity Government, Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, and People’s Defence Forces, declaring them “illegal and unlawful entities”.

Brunei said some ASEAN countries had received requests from Myanmar’s National Unity Government, formed by exiled opponents of the junta, to attend the summit.

Civil society groups across Southeast Asia have also urged ASEAN to exclude the military leadership from the October summit due to its “blatant disregard” of the five-point consensus and refusal to cooperate with the bloc.

“It is time for ASEAN to act decisively. This starts by denying the Myanmar junta the legitimacy it craves, and which has been rejected constantly by the people of Myanmar,” read an open letter signed by 52 organisations.

“A lack of decisiveness and consequences for the military… risks undermining the bloc’s legitimacy as a key regional player that can bring peace and stability.”

– Additional reporting from Reuters