Southeast Asian leaders gathered in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia for a two-day summit, where they strongly condemned an attack on an aid convoy in Myanmar. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) urged the military government in Myanmar to comply with a peace plan and put an immediate stop to the ongoing violence. The 10-nation bloc has faced mounting international pressure to address the crisis in Myanmar, although member nations remain divided on the best course of action. Some leaders proposed easing punitive measures and extending invitations to Myanmar’s top diplomats and officials to attend future high-profile summit meetings. An internal ASEAN report obtained by The Associated Press argued that the time for isolation had served its purpose.
The attack on the aid convoy occurred over the weekend in Myanmar’s eastern Shan state. The convoy, which was delivering much-needed assistance and carrying diplomats from Indonesia and Singapore, came under fire. In response, the convoy’s security team returned fire, resulting in damage to one vehicle but no injuries reported. The ASEAN leaders unequivocally condemned the attack and called for those responsible to be held accountable.
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s top general who orchestrated the military coup in February 2021, was not invited to the summit for the second consecutive year. The coup has plunged Myanmar into a severe crisis, posing the most significant challenge ASEAN has faced since its establishment in 1967. The ASEAN leaders expressed deep concern over the continued violence in Myanmar and stressed the urgent need to halt all forms of violence. They emphasized the importance of establishing a favorable environment that facilitates the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and encourages inclusive national dialogues.
During the foreign ministers’ talks held prior to the summit, some participants proposed reengaging with Myanmar’s military-led State Administration Council and allowing Myanmar’s inclusion in future foreign ministers’ meetings and summits. The ASEAN report indicated that this suggestion was acknowledged but did not receive unanimous approval from all ministers.
The ministers recognized that the Myanmar crisis should not hinder ASEAN’s progress in building a strong regional community. They also expressed apprehension over the escalating transnational crimes originating from Myanmar, such as human trafficking and illicit drug production. The report underscored the need for all parties to cease the influx of arms and financial support into Myanmar, as such actions only serve to exacerbate the conflict.
The military’s seizure of power in Myanmar has resulted in the deaths of over 3,450 civilians, with thousands more detained. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners documented these casualties and arrests linked to the oppressive actions of the military government. Human Rights Watch labeled an April military airstrike as an “apparent war crime” that claimed the lives of more than 160 individuals, including numerous children.
Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN, has adopted a less confrontational approach towards Myanmar’s military. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stated that Indonesia is pursuing a diplomatic strategy aimed at fostering dialogue and ending violence, aligning with the objectives outlined in the five-point peace plan negotiated with Myanmar’s military leader in 2021.
In their post-summit communique, the ASEAN leaders intend to renew their call for self-restraint in the disputed South China Sea. They expressed concerns about ongoing land reclamations, activities, and incidents that have caused significant damage to the marine environment. The leaders underscored the importance of upholding peace, security, and stability in the region while seeking a resolution to the challenges faced in the South China Sea.