LABUAN BAJO, INDIA – Southeast Asian leaders criticized an armed attack on an aid convoy for displaced persons in Myanmar, urging for an immediate cessation of violence and compliance by the military administration with a peace plan on Wednesday.
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations began a two-day summit in the scenic harbor town of Labuan Bajo in southern Indonesia. President Joko Widodo, who hosted them, urged for unity in the face of global economic headwinds and major-power rivalries roiling the region.
The 10-nation union is also under pressure to address the issue in member country Myanmar.
Over the weekend, unidentified men armed with pistols opened fire on a truck transporting Indonesian and Singaporean ambassadors providing help to displaced people in Myanmar’s eastern Shan state. According to state-run television MRTV, a security unit with the convoy returned fire, and a vehicle was damaged, but no one in the convoy was hurt.
After a lengthy evaluation, Indonesia, which serves as ASEAN’s chair this year, arranged for the relief to be sent.
“We condemned the attack and emphasized that those responsible must be held accountable,” ASEAN leaders said in a joint statement Wednesday.
For the second year in a row, Myanmar’s senior general was not invited to the summit. He and his army deposed the democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a power grab that devolved into civil strife in what has been ASEAN’s gravest crisis since its creation in 1967.
ASEAN leaders stated that they are “deeply concerned with the ongoing violence in Myanmar and have urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force in order to create a conducive environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues.”
In another Myanmar-related worry, Indonesian officials claimed Sunday that 20 of its nationals who had been trafficked into Myanmar and forced to execute cyber frauds had been liberated and taken to the Thai border over the weekend. During the conference, ASEAN leaders planned to issue a joint statement expressing their worry about such human trafficking schemes, a draft copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which maintains track of casualties and arrests tied to the military government’s persecution, more than 3,450 civilians have been slain by security forces since the military gained power in Myanmar. Thousands more remain imprisoned.
According to witnesses, military attacks in April killed up to 100 people, including many children, who were attending a ceremony by opponents of army authority. Human Rights Watch condemned the strike on Tuesday as a “apparent war crime.”
Since taking over as ASEAN’s rotating head, Indonesia has toned down its harsh condemnation of Myanmar’s military. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said her country is using “a non-megaphone diplomacy approach” to encourage discussion and eliminate bloodshed, which are goals of a five-point peace plan Southeast Asian countries reached with Myanmar’s top general in 2021.
After the military seized power, ASEAN leaders stopped admitting Myanmar’s top general to their summits, instead allowing only non-political officials. Myanmar’s military rulers have objected to the decision, claiming it violates the bloc’s non-interference principle.
Widodo is to deliver a post-summit declaration on behalf of the ASEAN leaders, renewing a plea for moderation in the disputed South China Sea, echoing wording used in past ASEAN statements.
“Concerns were expressed by some ASEAN member states about 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,” according to a draft of the communique obtained by the AP.
The leaders will also express concern about the exploitation of Southeast Asian laborers forced to perform online crypto currency fraud.