The decision taken by foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at an emergency meeting on Friday night, marks a rare bold step for the consensus-driven bloc, which has traditionally favoured a policy of engagement and non-interference.
Singapore’s foreign ministry said on Saturday the move to exclude junta chief Min Aung Hlaing was a “difficult but necessary decision to uphold ASEAN’s credibility”.
The statement went on to cite the lack of progress made on a roadmap to restore peace in Myanmar that the junta had agreed to with ASEAN in April.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by Myanmar security forces and thousands arrested, according to the United Nations, amid a crackdown on strikes and protests which has derailed the country’s tentative democracy and prompted international condemnation.
The junta says those estimates of the death toll are exaggerated.
ASEAN’s current chair Brunei said a non-political figure from Myanmar would be invited to the Oct. 26-28 summit, after no consensus was reached for a political representative to attend.
“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,” Brunei said in a statement.
It did not mention Min Aung Hlaing or name who would be invited in his stead.
Brunei said some member states had received requests from Myanmar’s National Unity Government, formed by opponents of the junta, to attend the summit.
ASEAN has faced increasing international pressure to take a tougher stand against Myanmar, having been criticised in the past for its ineffectiveness in dealing with leaders accused of rights abuses, subverting democracy and intimidating political opponents.
A U.S. State Department official told reporters on Friday that it was “perfectly appropriate and in fact completely justified” for ASEAN to downgrade Myanmar’s participation at the coming summit.
Singapore in its statement urged Myanmar to cooperate with ASEAN’s envoy, Brunei’s second foreign affairs minister Erywan Yusof.
Erywan has delayed a long-planned visit to the country in recent weeks and has asked to meet all parties in Myanmar, including deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the coup.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said this week Erywan would be welcome in Myanmar, but would not be allowed to meet Suu Kyi because she is charged with crimes.