SINGAPORE, Oct 21 (AFP) — Southeast Asia’s regional bloc should do some “soul-searching” on its policy of not interfering in members’ internal affairs to deal effectively with issues like the Myanmar crisis, Malaysia said Thursday.
The comments came after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last week excluded Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from a forthcoming leaders’ summit, a rare rebuke.
The junta has been accused of failing to stick to a roadmap drawn up with ASEAN aimed at defusing the bloody crisis that erupted after a February coup.
Following the snub, Myanmar accused the bloc of violating its decades-old policy of not meddling in each others’ domestic affairs — which critics say has made the grouping toothless.
Saifuddin Abdullah, foreign minister of member state Malaysia, said he understood that the policy is “almost sacrosanct” in ASEAN and had been “useful and practical” in the past.
“But when we are faced with situations like the one that is currently occurring in Myanmar, then perhaps ASEAN should actually do some soul-searching,” he said at a virtual dialogue on human rights in Myanmar.
“As much as the issue in Myanmar is local and national… it has impact on the region and we should also recognize the concerns of the other nine member states,” he said.
The junta leader was excluded after authorities refused to allow an ASEAN special envoy to meet with ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar, mostly ruled by the military since a 1962 coup, has been a thorn in ASEAN’s side since it joined in 1997.
Elections in 2015 overwhelmingly won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party ushered in the start of civilian rule — but this was cut short by the most recent coup.
The Southeast Asian bloc has been under international pressure to address unrest and the junta’s brutal crackdown on dissent.
Diplomatic sources said key ASEAN members like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore pushed for tough action to stop the group’s credibility being tarnished.